A pill for coeliac disease?

The American Journal of Physiology has published an article about a new enzyme which breaks down gluten molecules as well as the T cell stimulatory peptides that cause celiac disease. This enzyme was originally developed for commercial food processing, but works best in the same kind of environment as the human stomach.

The research team think that there is now a realistic chance that eating this as a supplement would cause the gluten in the meal to degrade in the stomach before reaching the small intestine, which – as you know – is where the damage is done. Clinical trials are the next likely step.

We’ve been here before, of course, with the announcement of a potential ‘pill’ for coeliac disease – apparently the last one failed because it was deactivated by the level of acid in the stomach, and pepsin, which is found in the human stomach. And though this enzyme apparently works very quickly, in theory breaking down the large gluten molecules into smaller pieces before they could leave the stomach, would this be acceptable for very sensitive coeliacs? And what about the longer term risks of leaving coeliac disease untreated – will these risks be eliminated by using this enzyme? I shall look forward to the results of the clinical trials with great interest – and wonder who is going to volunteer to be a guineapig.

In the meantime, the only way of treating coeliac disease is with a diet free from wheat, barley and rye.

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Lucy is the mother of a coeliac, and has been managing a gluten free diet for her daughter for 20 years - though, to be fair, she does do most of it herself now...

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