Previous studies have shown obesity and excess insulin -- whether naturally produced by the body or injected in synthetic form -- are associated with an increased incidence of some common cancers, the researchers said.
But they said their invention of a "smart" insulin protein molecule that binds considerably less to cancer receptors solves that problem.
Led by Dr. Michael Weiss, a professor of cancer research, the scientists said the analog self-assembles under the skin by a means of "stapling" itself by bridging zinc ions, thereby providing a slow-release form of insulin.
"It's quite a novel mechanism," said Weiss. "Our team has applied the perspective of biomedical engineering to the biochemistry of a therapeutic protein. We regard the injected insulin solution as forming a new biomaterial that can be engineered to optimize its nano-scale properties. The notion of engineered zinc staples may find application to improve diverse injectable protein drugs to address a variety of conditions from cancer to immune deficiency."
The research that included Professor Faramarz Ismail-Beigi, Associate Professor Nelson Phillips, Associate Professor Jonathan Whittaker and X-ray crystallographer Zhu-li Wan appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.