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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Will a Pill Soon Enable Celiac Patients to Eat Gluten?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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.

    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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    Did you notice the part that says they "used a computer to modify the enzyme in the laboratory"? This is a genetically modified enzyme, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to cause all sorts of problems/imbalances in our bodies. In fact, some people argue that GMOs are to blame for the plethora of food allergies we are seeing in the US today (BT Corn might be causing a leaky gut and allowing food particles to enter the bloodstream, in-turn causing the immune system to react to these foods). I worry that long term, using a genetically modified enzyme to treat Celiac disease could actually make matters worse for people who are already dealing with serious digestive issues. Who knows in what ways this human engineered enzyme will interact with the naturally occurring enzymes and flora in our gut, not to mention the lining of our digestive system.

    I don't think genetically modifying a pill is the same as genetically modifying corn so that it has built-in pesticides. I would try this for me and my children when we go out to eat, but continue to eat gluten-free at home.

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    Don't know? I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since STOPPING treating MS and eating STRICTLY gluten-free, my MS has been benign. Not sure if the pill would stop the route gluten takes in disease process when it isn't typical.

    Same thing happened to me, Sandy. I get funny looks when I tell people a gluten-free diet eliminated my MS symptoms. I think they think I'm nuts!

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    While genetically modified organisms are a major concern, the article does not say whether there are any involved in the production of the engineered enzyme. Surely an enzyme can be engineered chemically to have different properties, and the source reference is an article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. I looked at the abstract of that article and saw no reference to genetic engineering. It would be interesting to have this clarified.

     

    If it gets through safety and effectiveness testing, I'd probably eventually take it, at least while traveling, but I wouldn't be an early adopter. My guess is that it will be a decade or more before it proves out, if it ever does.

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    I'm not really sensitive to gluten, but my sister is, and so I probably have some reaction to it that I don't realize (and I have autoimmune issues so I'm sure the gluten- leaky gut thing is implicated/doesn't help). So I want to help protect myself from it's effects since the info out there has convinced me we all suffer ill effects from it. I would take this pill to help digest gluten in eg., oats, kamut, rye, heritage wheats, hidden gluten, and the occasional restaurant bread/pasta meal. In other words, it would help me maintain a "gluten-reduced" diet, which has got to be at least a bit healthier and give your gut a break and a chance to heal. Since i don't get visible symptoms, it's hard to stay motivated to be gluten FREE. So this would help me go part of the way there at least, without feeling too deprived.

     

    One thing about MindLinx - it looked so promising to me but then I read a thorough description of it and it SOUNDS like it doesn't actually help you digest the gluten. It is a probiotic product, w/ specific strains of organisms, that help breakdown the exorphins (opiate-like molecules) that are released from the gut when exposed to gluten, and travel to brain and cause things like ADHD and autism. So I don't think it actually helps digest the protein, it just counteracts the negative brain effects of one of gluten digestion's end-products. That does sound like it might be a good protection to have, I might try MindLinx, but I'm also going to look into glutazmine, etc to find something that actually has a "glutein-ase" in it.

     

    RE: the enzyme being GMO, from what I remember of my college biology, I don't think enzymes have DNA, so how could they be genetically modified? Enzymes are just a long complex molecule, right? I'm ok w tinkering w an enzyme, maybe it just changes the molecule's binding sites, say, so it is more binding to gluten. It already in its natural state binds 75%, maybe they just bent it slightly or removed a couple bonds at the ends of the molecule so it does more of what it naturally does. To me that's simple, and not scary like GMO (as long as they're not using solvents, etc.)

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    I have been diagnosed with celiac disease for the last 2 years. For a person that loves craft beers and good Italian pastas with good breads, I would love to be able to eat these foods again like normal people. I shire hope this medication works. I will be standing in line to purchase the pill. can't be any more expensive than buying gluten free food at the store. Kudos if this pill works.

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    You see, GMOs MIGHT cause problems, but there are two things to consider about that. 1. They MIGHT NOT cause problems. Like you said, SOME people argue that. I have heard that, but where is the evidence? 2. Some GMOs might or might now cause problems, but saying some GMOs cause problems is different than saying because this is genetically modified, it's a problem. I would agree that you need a doctor's approval.

    10-4 Ian. Humans have been ingesting GMOs for years. Technically, selective breeding is genetic modification. Most fears of GMOs are as rational as a fear of the dark. Unless, of course, you are actually afraid of the Vashta Narada.

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    Did you notice the part that says they "used a computer to modify the enzyme in the laboratory"? This is a genetically modified enzyme, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to cause all sorts of problems/imbalances in our bodies. In fact, some people argue that GMOs are to blame for the plethora of food allergies we are seeing in the US today (BT Corn might be causing a leaky gut and allowing food particles to enter the bloodstream, in-turn causing the immune system to react to these foods). I worry that long term, using a genetically modified enzyme to treat Celiac disease could actually make matters worse for people who are already dealing with serious digestive issues. Who knows in what ways this human engineered enzyme will interact with the naturally occurring enzymes and flora in our gut, not to mention the lining of our digestive system.

    That is not what genetically modified means. The pharm industry is always using computers to optimize chemicals and proteins, etc. You actually have to change/alter/modify the genetic components to call it GMO.

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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 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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