The number of people suffering from gluten intolerance and celiac disease is on the rise, and more and more attention is being paid to finding a way to help these patients enjoy a healthy, pain-free lifestyle that includes the foods they want to eat.
To that end, scientists recently reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, advancement toward development of a pill that, like lactase pills for the lactose-intolerant, would zero in on the primary culprit robbing so many of their health — peptides.
Justin Siegel, Ingrid Swanson Pultz and colleagues explain that when gluten is consumed in foods, enzymes in the stomach break it down to small pieces called peptides. For most of us, peptides are not problematic. However, for the 2 million to 3 million Americans with celiac disease, peptides trigger an autoimmune response that includes painful symptoms.
That’s where the pill idea comes in. If the peptides could be further broken-down for digestion, celiac patients could quite possibly eat foods containing gluten without ill effects.
The scientists discovered a naturally occurring enzyme that had some of the ideal properties needed to further break down the peptides into smaller pieces. Upon modification in the laboratory, the new enzyme was able to break down more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide implicated in celiac disease in acidic conditions like those in the stomach.
According to the researcher, “These combined properties make the engineered [enzyme] a promising candidate as an oral therapeutic for celiac disease.”