Researchers create breakthrough process for diabetes treatment

Using advanced biological and chemical engineering, CSIRO researchers have found a simpler, cleaner, and cheaper way to manufacture anti-diabetic drugs.

The scientists, from the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform used a series of enzymes to convert the cheap and abundant chemical glycerol into D-fagomine. Project lead, Dr Colin Scott, highlighted how the method enables the easier creation of these molecules.

“We’ve modified naturally occurring enzymes, so that they can be used as ‘nanomachines’ in assembly lines that assemble molecules,” said Scott.

“Enzymes are nature’s nanotechnology – biological molecules found in every living cell that are responsible for the chemical reactions we rely on to survive.”

The process assembled a series of enzymes, with each one producing a single chemical conversion, and then passing the product onto the next enzyme in the series.

Arranging the enzymes in compartments, each compartment conducted one chemical step. In sequence, the compartments made the right series of event to convert glycerol into D-fagomine.

Scott and the team from CSIRO are now looking into methods to conduct the treatment commercially, to reduce the cost of anti-diabetic drugs. The team see other opportunities for the research, as it could be applied for other technologies reliant on chemical reactions, such as other drugs, biodegradable plastics, biofuels, and fuel additives.

However, with Type 2 diabetes one of the largest global health challenges of the 21st century, affecting more than 350 million people, the immediate need for a cheap and simple solution is apparent.

In the case of diabetes, the chemical produced in this technique, D-fagomine, can stand in for insulin, and lower blood glucose levels. Diabetes sufferers do not produce the hormone insulin in sufficient quantities to convert glucose from food into energy.