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Space Grown Insulin Crystals Provide New Data On Diabetes

Diabetic patients may someday reduce their insulin injections and lead more normal lives because of new insights gained through innovative space research in which the largest insulin crystals ever studied were grown on the Space Shuttle.

Results from a 1994 insulin crystal growth experiment in space are leading to a new understanding of diabetes -- a hormone deficiency disease. This has the potential to significantly reduce expensive treatments, since treatment of diabetes accounts for one-seventh of the nation's health care costs. Sixteen million Americans suffer from hormone deficiency diseases such as diabetes, hepatic failure, hemophilia, Parkinson and Huntington diseases.

"The space-grown insulin crystals have provided us new, never-before-seen information," said Dr. G. David Smith, scientist at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, in Buffalo, N.Y. "As a result, we now have a much more detailed picture of insulin," Smith said.

Because of the increase in crystal size, Smith's team is able to study in more detail, the delicate balance of the insulin molecule. Natural insulin molecules hold together and gradually release into the human body. With some of the new and unexpected findings, researchers may be able to improve how insulin is released from its inactive-stored state to its active state. This could greatly improve the quality-of-life of people who are on insulin therapy by cutting down on the number of injections they have to take.

"This new information can be used in the development of a new therapeutic insulin treatment for the control of diabetes," said Smith. Hauptman-Woodward is partnering with the Center for Macromolecular Crystallography, a NASA Commercial Space Center, in Birmingham, Ala.

"We are doing crystal growth experiments in the near-weightlessness of space that really tell the story of how insulin works and give us clues of how, in the long run, to de
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Contact: Steve Roy
steve.roy@msfc.nasa.gov
(256) 544-6535
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center
3-Jun-1998


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