Cone snail venom could hold the key to improving treatment for people living with diabetes.
Australian and US researchers have found the creature's venom insulin operates much faster than human insulin, and is able to bind to human receptors.
Associate Professor Michael Lawrence says it could make a major difference.
"We see it as the basis for a whole new class of fast-acting therapeutics which shortens the predelivery time for diabetic patients."
Human insulin has a 'hinge' that must open before the insulin molecules can connect with receptors.
"By studying the three-dimensional structure of this snail venom insulin we've found how to dispense with this 'hinge' entirely, which may accelerate the cell signalling process and thus the speed with which the insulin takes effect."
The research was a team effort between the University of Utah, the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, La Trobe University and Flinders University. The findings were published today in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
"The next step in our research, which is already underway, is to apply these findings to the design of new and better treatments for diabetes, giving patients access to faster-acting insulins," says Dr Helena Safavi-Hemami from the University of Utah.