Molecules found in tarantula venom could offer a new treatment option for people living with Type 2 diabetes. The early-stage research, presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference (DUKPC) 2021, found that a molecule called ΔTRTX-Ac1 reduced blood glucose levels and decreased food intake in mice.
The researchers led by Professor Nigel Irwin at Ulster University previously uncovered that the venom of the Aphonopelma chalcodes (Mexican blonde tarantula) could increase insulin production and lower blood glucose levels, but why this happens has not been clear until now. These new findings, by PhD student Aimee Coulter Parkhill, have pinpointed that a molecule called ΔTRTX-Ac1 could hold the key.
The researchers developed a synthetic version of ΔTRTX-Ac1 to uncover whether it has the same effect on insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas in lab conditions, as well as in mice. They found that it increased insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells in the lab more than two-fold. The venom molecule may be controlling channels on the surface of beta cells, acting as the gatekeeper that allows other molecules to flow in and out of the cells. ΔTRTX-Ac1 also improved beta cell growth and didn’t damage the cells, making it a potential future treatment that warrants further investigation.
When injected into mice alongside glucose, ΔTRTX-Ac1 steadily reduced blood glucose levels over an hour, suggesting it can ramp up insulin release in mice, as well as in cells in the lab. ΔTRTX-Ac1 also reduced food intake in mice, suggesting it may act to suppress appetite.
Researchers now plan to uncover precisely how ΔTRTX-Ac1 functions and assess its effectiveness over longer periods in animal models of diabetes.