Medical researchers are close to developing a pill that may soon enable celiac patients to eat foods containing gluten. The advance, detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, could offer celiac disease sufferers a treatment comparable to lactase pills that now allow people with lactose intolerance to eat dairy products.
University of Washington researcher Ingrid Swanson Pultz and Justin Siegel of the University of California at Davis said their work involves a key digestive enzyme that breaks down the gluten that causes celiac symptoms.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the gluten in wheat, rye, or barley products causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Enzymes in the gut break down gluten into peptides that are harmless for most people. But for the millions of Americans with celiac disease, the peptides trigger an autoimmune response and painful symptoms, requiring them to eat a gluten-free diet.
But Pultz and Siegel have discovered a naturally occurring enzyme that can further break down the offending peptides in the stomach, allowing celiac patients to eat gluten-containing foods.
The scientists modified the enzyme — called KumaMax — in the laboratory and found that it broke down more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide implicated in celiac disease, suggesting it could be developed into a pill for people with the disorder.
"These combined properties make the engineered [enzyme] a promising candidate as an oral therapeutic for celiac disease," the researchers said.
The research was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.