Australian scientists make enzymes machines to fight diabetes

There could be more hope on the way for people with diabetes, as Australian scientists pioneer a technique to make an anti-diabetic drug more cost effective.

Australians have produced some pretty serious scientific and technological innovations over time, and you can place quite a bit at the feet of Australia’s CSIRO, the Commenwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. It’s not the place every scientist works, as Australia has quite a few scientists, but it is the place where scientists are working on big items that could change the world.

You can thank the CSIRO for how easily our phones and computers talk to your network at home and work without wires, because WiFi is one of its most known inventions. Those plastic banknotes we’ve all been carrying are included, as is the mosquito repellent Aeroguard.

In fact, the organisation is still working on great ideas, and in the past few years has built a security concept that turns our walking into a form of identity protection, focused on making sea water drinkable by filtering it with graphene, and even built a Fitbit-style tracker that has value for farmers by tracking cow movement, among other things.

This week, some of the CSIRO’s news is actually in the medical scene, as the organisation announces research that turns enzymes into an assembly line of little tiny molecular robots, turning one chemical into another.

According to the CSIRO, scientists from its Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform have worked to make an anti-diabetic drug D-fagomine more cost effective by putting enzymes to work and converting the cheap chemical glycerol into D-fagomine.

D-fagomine is used in diabetes that can do the job of insulin by lowering blood glucose levels, a problem in diabetics where there’s not enough insulin being produced to do that.

By being able to produce D-fagomine using this process, it could reduce the cost of anti-diabetic drugs significantly, something the team says could improve other technologies reliant on chemical reactions, such as biofuels and the production of other drugs.

“We’ve modified naturally occurring enzymes, so that they can be used as ‘nanomachines’ in assembly lines that assemble molecules,” said Dr Colin Scott, Project Lead for the team.

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

While the improvement is potentially a major step for people with diabetes, the process will need to be put into action with commercial partners before it affects pricing. However the team is now looking for partners to make that happen, and to use the enzyme conversion production in a commercial environment.