Moreover I'm not that good at either, and therefore this news for many Australians including myself is one of high priority. Key people in Diabetes Australia have been on the news casts with similar enthusiasm.
Researchers have now visualised the interaction between the hormone insulin and the cell surfaces within our bodies, showing how this enables glucose to move out of the blood and into the cells, so that it can start reacting to produce the energy for living. (www.sciencedaily.com)
Hebrews 11 verse 13 states: "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible".
Our bodies are made up of cells that can be seen with a microscope, but not with the naked eye. Proteins such as insulin are so small that scientists can't even see them with a normal microscope, so they have used the syncroton in Melbourne, Australia to help them determined what is going on.
This machine produces a beam of electrons that can be focussed to see smaller structures than possible with light microscopes. (en.wikipedia.org)
What the new insights mean, and don't mean
The new findings show how the insulin interacts with another protein on the cell membrane , causing both to change shape like a 'molecular handshake'. This new arrangement opens a passage into the cell to allow the glucose to enter.
Being a protein, insulin that diabetics need to take is digested in the stomach in the same way as the foods you eat, which is why it cannot be taken by mouth and needs to be injected. It is hoped that, using this new knowledge, oral medications for diabetics might be developed.
It seems, however, that I won't be writing about potential new drugs any time soon!First the medicines have to be designed, then tested in the lab, then tested on animals, then permission granted for tests on humans, then the various levels of clinical tests to make sure that (a) they work and (b) they don't have any dangerous side-effects.
But scientists have now taken another step along the path to this next stage of research, and Australians have featured in the large international collaboration.
The first discovery of insulin and its therapeutic power
The researchers credited with showing the first effective therapy for diabetes are Frederick Banting and Charles Best, working with Professor John McLeod in Toronto, Canada, in 1920 and 1921.
Their experiments on dogs proved the ideas, postulated in the second half of the 19th century, that: insulin is produced by part of the pancreas; lack of this hormone is responsible for diabetes (called 'Type 1' or 'juvenile' or 'insulin-dependent' diabetes); and injecting a purified form of insulin, extracted from the pancreases of cattle, can reverse the deadly effects of diabetes (Diabetes mellitus).
This type of diabetes can neither be prevented, nor cured. It often occurs suddenly in children and young adults, and is thought to be caused when the particular cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body's own immune system, perhaps after the patient has recovered from another infection.
Patients must take insulin for the rest of their lives, and monitor their intake by measuring the sugar in their blood several times a day. Too much insulin at the wrong time can have disastrous results.
In 1923, the pharmaceutical company Ely Lilly produced sufficient insulin for the entire diabetic population of the USA.
The experiments that those scientists did on animals, and also on themselves, would not be allowed by ethics committees today. However, like some of the more unsavoury parts of the Bible, these things were done, they did work, and they are part of the history of our society.
Banting and McLeod received the Nobel Prize in 1923, but Banting was furious that Best had not been part of the team, so he shared his prize money with his hard working assistant. McLeod shared his with another team member named Bertram Collip. (www.nobelprize.org)
Tomorrow in Part 2 we'll look at the developments.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html