The Future of Celiac Disease

One day, celiac sufferers could consume gluten with the help of a pill

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when a substance in gluten, called gliadin, triggers an unusual immune response in the gastrointestinal tract. It leads to flattening and altering of the millions of microscopic finger-like projections (villi) that line the inner wall of the small intestine, which causes diarrhea and limits absorption of nutrients from food. Currently, the only way for someone with celiac disease to remain symptom free is a lifelong completely gluten-free diet. However, exciting research at the University of Alberta could change this, allowing celiac patients to take a pill before eating gluten-containing foods to counteract the harmful effects gliadin has on their intestinal tracts.

After the researchers injected gliadin into hens, they produced an antibody to defend themselves against the gliadin. These hens continue to produce the antibody and pass it into the yolks in the eggs they lay. The team takes these yolks, powders them, and puts that powder into pill form to allow for easy use.

The idea is that a celiac patient can take a pill 5-10 minutes before they eat a meal containing gluten and the antibody will neutralize the gliadin before it has a chance to wreak havoc on the intestinal tract.

Individuals with celiac disease wouldn’t be able to use this pill to consume gluten regularly; it would be more of a safety net for when they really want to eat food that contains gluten, similarly to taking lactase before consuming a product with dairy if you are lactose intolerant.

These pills are still in the early phase, and are not yet available. While they appear to be safe, the researchers are still testing their product for efficacy. They will conduct a clinical trial on 200 patients in June 2016. Likely a study including a greater number of participants will then be necessary to ensure safety and efficacy for those who have Celiac disease.

The researchers, Hoon Sunwoo and Jeong Sim have partnered with IGY Inc. and Vetanda Group through an agreement with TEC Edmonton to bring the product to market. “This collaboration gives us the opportunity to change the lives of those suffering with a debilitating autoimmune condition,” said Vetanda Group communications director, Claire Perry. “Our groundbreaking new health product has the potential to offer more dietary freedom and, overall, a much better quality of life for gluten-intolerant individuals. The product could be available to celiac sufferers in Canada within three years, paving the way for testing and product approval in the United States and Europe.”

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 195 – 2015
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