A new study sheds light into what causes diabetes and explains a new breakthrough that could offer the potential for new disease treatments. 

Authors of the report say they’ve pinpointed an enzyme that blocks insulin produced in the body. The discovery could provide a new pathway for innovations in diabetes treatment, the scientists said. The study was published Dec. 5 in the journal Cell.

The “carrier” enzyme SNO-CoA-assisted nitrosylase (SCAN) is involved in the insulin process. SCAN binds nitric oxide to proteins, including the receptor for insulin action. People with diabetes have too much of SCAN in their bodies, the authors noted. That’s why developing medicines to block the enzyme could hold promise to treat diabetes.

“We show that blocking this enzyme protects from diabetes, but the implications extend to many diseases likely caused by novel enzymes that add nitric oxide,” Jonathan Stamler, MD, a professor of cardiovascular innovation at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and president of Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals, said in a statement. “Blocking this enzyme may offer a new treatment.”

Diabetes isn’t the only disease that researchers think nitric oxide has a role in. Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and heart failure may be due to nitric oxide binding excessively to key proteins. Stamler noted that researchers have cited excessive nitric oxide as a root of diseases, but the molecule is so reactive and can’t be targeted. 

“This paper shows that dedicated enzymes mediate the many effects of nitric oxide,” he said. “Here, we discover an enzyme that puts nitric oxide on the insulin receptor to control insulin. Too much enzyme activity causes diabetes. But a case is made for many enzymes putting nitric oxide on many proteins, and, thus, new treatments for many diseases.”

 The news comes after a report out last week detailed that some anti-diabetes drugs could cut the risk for colon cancer, and perhaps other forms of the disease.