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Toward A Pill To Enable Celiac Patients To Eat Foods Containing Gluten

Scientists are reporting an advance toward development of a pill that could become celiac disease’s counterpart to the lactase pills that people with can take to eat dairy products without risking digestive upsets. They describe the approach, which involves an that breaks down the that causes , in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Justin Siegel, and colleagues explain that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the gluten in wheat, rye or barley products causes inflammation in the digestive tract. 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 treatment is a gluten-free diet. However, the scientists reasoned that if an enzyme could further break down the offending peptides in the stomach, might be able to eat gluten-containing foods.

They describe discovery of a naturally occurring enzyme that has some of the ideal properties for doing so. The scientists modified the enzyme in the laboratory so that it would meet all the necessary criteria. The new enzyme (called KumaMax) broke down more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide implicated in celiac disease in acidic conditions like those in the stomach. “These combined properties make the engineered [enzyme] a promising candidate as an oral therapeutic for celiac disease,” say the researchers.


The authors acknowledge funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

American Chemical Society