Until now, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life.
We naturally have enzymes in our stomachs that break gluten down into smaller pieces, called peptides. For most people, these peptides are harmless. But for people who suffer from coeilac disease, these peptides trigger an autoimmune response and painful symptoms.
But could there be hope of a pill that could help us tolerate gluten?
A drug was initially designed and discovered in 2011 that has the potential to help people with coeliac disease to tolerate gluten if taken before a meal. This is a specially engineered enzyme called KumaMax, and it can help break down gluten peptides in the acidic environment of the stomach, before it can reach the small intestine where intact gluten may otherwise cause an inflammatory reaction in people who suffer from coeliac disease. This can be thought of as a ‘super enzyme’ and was developed using computer models.
The enzyme appears to be highly effective, at least in a test tube. It dismantled more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide that is thought to cause coeliac disease, according to a study that was published recently in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
More research is needed to study the effects of this drug on humans. It is not yet known if this will have the same effect on different individuals with different sensitivity levels, and side effects on humans is not yet known. It could take years to prove that it is safe.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/widvey/5592325289/”>Anne Marthe Widvey</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>