A Gluten-Busting Pill for Celiac Disease?

By Root66 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
There’s cause for optimism among people with celiac.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have been working on the development of a pill that would allow people with celiac to occasionally cheat on the diet — without suffering intestinal damage and the uncomfortable symptoms that can result from gluten exposure.

People with celiac have an abnormal immune response that causes intestinal damage when the proteins that make up gluten are consumed. Right now, the only way to prevent that damage is to follow a gluten free diet for life.

But a group of researchers, including Hoon Sunwoo, an associate professor in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences at U of A, has been investigating the use of egg yolk antibodies that would allow gluten to pass through the gut without causing intestinal damage.

The antibodies would be delivered in the form of a pill that a celiac sufferer would take roughly five minutes before eating a small amount of gluten. Sunwoo is careful to note that the pill is not designed to treat or cure celiac, rather it’s “just to try to help (people) improve their quality of life when they socialize with friends.”

In an interview on CBC radio’s Edmonton AM, Sunwoo says the pill, which has just completed safety clinical trials, “would capture and neutralize the gluten” and has shown no side effects to date. The next step is an efficacy clinical trial, which will be done next year.

The study’s authors note that “finding a more convenient, safe, and cost-effective way of relieving symptoms would contribute greatly to the quality of life for these patients.”

Sunwoo says he was motivated to develop the pill because he has a friend who has celiac disease. “I really just want to have a beer with my friend.”

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