Canada breaks ground on pill to make gluten accessible for Celiac sufferers
Diet has been a subject of major concern in the healthcare sector in recent years, and the issue of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance has been at the forefront of issues where food and health meet. While gluten sensitivity has become a pop diet fad to some degree, that fad has also helped to shine a much greater spotlight on the millions of people living with the complications and diet restrictions of Celiac disease or other gluten intolerance-inducing autoimmune disorders. But relief could be close at hand. Researchers at Canada’s University of Alberta are developing a pill that could make foods containing gluten accessible and safe for those with gluten intolerance.
This new “gluten pill” was developed by Hoon Sunwoo, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, in collaboration with colleague Jeong Sim, a retired former professor from the school’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. As Sunwoo told CBC News, research began 10 years ago as a search for a way to help a friend:
"My friend is celiac. We haven't had any entertaining with beers. So, that's why I develop this pill -- for my friend."
The key ingredient of the pill is chicken egg yolk that has been to a powder form. The egg yolk antibodies reportedly coat gliadin—which is the key component of gluten that Celiacs have trouble digesting—allowing it to leave the body without doing its usual damage. As such, the pill is not to be thought of as a cure for Celiac or for gluten intolerance. Rather, it’s more of a gluten analog to lactase enzyme supplements like Lactaid that help sufferers of lactose intolerance eat the occasional ice cream sundae:
"This is not treating the celiac disease or curing celiac disease," he told Edmonton AM host Tim Adams. "It's just to try to help them improve their quality of life so when they want to socialize with peers or friends."
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In another similarity to dairy relief supplements, Sunwoo has also related to the press that, once the treatment goes through human trials and is approved by Health Canada, it will be available over the counter as a supplement instead of through prescription as a drug:
“This is not a drug, this is a food supplement that will be over the counter so it will be available for everyone,” he said. “In two years, I expect this product to be available on the market for a reasonable, affordable cost.”
It may not be a cure. But it’s certainly an important step in the right direction toward making food healthier and more accessible to all.