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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    A Sweet Pill For Celiacs to Swallow? Progress on Enzyme Therapy for Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 02/07/2008 - Are we close to finding a way for people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease to safely break down and properly digest wheat gluten and protein? An article recently published in the medical journal Gut describes the results of laboratory experiments in which doctors duplicated a human digestive tract and isolated an enzyme that degrades wheat gluten and protein. Moreover, the results show that the enzyme also eliminated the toxic response to the wheat gluten and protein common in folks with gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

    According to the researchers, if a full-scale trial confirms the results, people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease might be able to safely stray from their strict gluten-free diets on occasion.

    The enzyme is prolyl endoprotease isolated from Aspergillus niger and shows the power to quickly and effectively break down gluten peptides and proteins in a simulated human digestive tract. The enzyme has a similar pH level to that of the stomach, and remains intact in the stomach’s strongly acidic conditions.

    The research team, led by Dr. C. Mitea from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands tested the enzyme in a controlled system built to function in way that is nearly identical with the human gastrointestinal tract.

    According to the report, the enzyme increased the digestion speed of the glutenins and gliadins that are found in white bread, and which people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease cannot properly break down. After 90 minutes, the gluten proteins treated with the enzyme were undetectable, whereas those glutens not treated with the enzyme, remained in the stomach for at least two hours.

    The research team obtained similar results when they repeated the test on a fast food meal rather than just white bread alone, and showed that the enzyme treated food samples also eliminated adverse T-cell stimulatory activity that occurred in untreated samples. The tests showed that, in the same amount of time that food normally remains in the stomach, the enzyme brought about the total elimination of T-cell stimulatory peptides of gliadins and glutenins.

    From the test results, the research team concluded that the enzyme is a solid choice for clinical trials to determine if it can eliminate 100% of gluten toxicity. They also noted that the enzyme is readily available in industrial quantities, and thus easy to tailor into a suitable treatment should trials prove fruitful.

    Gut, Jan 2008; 57: 25 - 32.

    Editor's Note: This is not a therapy that is designed to allow celiacs to eat gluten on a daily basis. At best it will allow them to not worry about cross-contamination when eating out.

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    Guest Gillian Bramwell


    I have a reaction to gluten within 5 minutes of ingesting it. Something that takes 90 minutes to work would not be much help.


    Perhaps this would be more useful for individuals who have genetic potential for celiac but haven't yet developed an active case.

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    Guest Sherry-Ann Herman-Kalpoo


    Very informative. My baby was diagnosed with celiac disease at 8 months and I am just trying to get all the possible ways to help her deal with it as she gets older. Keep up the good work and every little detail will be greatly appreciated.

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    Great news indeed! In regards to Comment #8 - don't understand why 'only' those with celiac should have access. Why would anyone else want it? Also, gluten-free food is a write off on taxes. It is medically necessary - keep each and every receipt!! We celiacs pay a fortune for our foods! Someone needs to do something about THAT!!!

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    What does 'toxic response' mean? What about the *autoimmune* response? This seems like a drastic oversimplification of the disease. If I didn't know better, I'd read this and think celiac disease was essentially the same as lactose intolerance. For me, this article glosses over a lot of important technicalities and ignores some glaring potential problems.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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