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  • Jefferson Adams

    Will a Pill Soon Enable Celiac Patients to Eat Gluten?

    Jefferson Adams
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Photo: CC--doug88888
    Caption: Photo: CC--doug88888

    Celiac.com 01/16/2013 - Scientists are making progress on the creation of a pill that would allow people with celiac disease to safely eat gluten in much the same way that lactase pills allow people with lactose intolerance to eat dairy products without upsetting digestion.

    Photo: CC--doug88888As with lactase, the approach involves the use of an enzyme to break down the gluten that causes celiac symptoms.

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    When people consume wheat, rye or barley, enzymes in the stomach break down gluten into smaller pieces, called peptides. For most people, these peptides are harmless. But for the 2 million-3 million Americans with celiac disease, the peptides trigger an autoimmune response and painful symptoms.

    Currently, the only way for people with celiac disease to avoid the autoimmune response and the accompanying symptoms is to avoid gluten altogether.

    However, Justin Siegel, Ingrid Swanson Pultz and colleagues think that an enzyme might be able to further break down the offending peptides in the stomach, thus permitting people with celiac disease to safely eat gluten-containing foods.

    Their efforts led to the discovery of a naturally occurring enzyme that has some of the ideal properties for doing so. They then used a computer to modify the enzyme in the laboratory so that it would do the job completely.

    The newly engineered enzyme, which they called KumaMax, breaks down more than 95 percent of gluten peptides associated with celiac disease in acidic conditions that mimic the stomach.

    Clearly, further research and trials are needed, but these early results make the new enzyme a strong candidate for oral use in the treatment of celiac disease.

    What do you think? Would you take spill that allowed your body to safely digest gluten from wheat, barley or rye without any of the symptoms or damage associated with celiac disease? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.



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    Not sure about this; I don't like taking pills. Though I may consider this if I was eating out or going somewhere other than home. Then I could be sure that any contamination would be okay. At home, I don't have to worry. So yes maybe it would be useful when away from home where you are not sure about how careful they are being.

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    95%? I'd need 100%. In practice, not just the lab. I'd also need to have the safety and efficacy of the enzyme well tested, and even then time periods and numbers tested would be small. Finally, at what cost? I'd distinguish between something to help for an accidental gluten ingestion, versus something for regular consumption like lactase has been promoted.

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    digestive enzymes that break down the gluten peptide already exist but now PHARMA is trying to capitalize here and make people think the only way to get them is from your medical doctor!

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    I use it as a safety thing when eating out in restaurants or over a friends for dinner. I've taken lactaid for years and don't find it cumbersome at all, sounds like this would be much the same.

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    Would I take this pill? It depends. If it is 95% effective and I'm very sensitive to gluten, I still may experience troubling symptoms. Also, if the cost is high, as it likely will be for complex drug like this and companies needing to recoup their R&D investment, then I may wait for affordable generic versions with the added benefit of seeing if any rare adverse events emerge once the drug is on the market.

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    With further testing, this could have real implications in giving celiacs on a gluten free diet a chance to travel/eat socially more freely. I think it would take a LOT of long term research to ensure 100% safety and put celiacs back on a gluten containing diet, but if this pill can disrupt the effects of small amounts of contamination for those on a gluten free diet, it could give us a lot more freedom to take "risks."

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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 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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