About 1 percent of the population in the world has celiac disease. This means that 1 percent of humans don’t drink beer. But, this was not good enough for the scientist Hoon Sunwoo, who wanted to enjoy the sweet drink with one of his best friends who has this disease. So, he decided to embark on a ten-year struggle to try and find a way to make better the quality of life of his friend, but also of the other people in the world with this genetic disorder. And he may have cracked it.
Sunwoo from the University of Alberta, together with his colleague Jeong Sim had developed a supplement pill that sticks to those problematic parts of gluten that stir inappropriate reactions in the guts of people with celiacs, on that way reducing the damage that would normally come up from eating the gluten. The idea of this is that people can pop the pill before they consume products that contain gluten, although this is just a temporary fix for the symptoms.
Maybe you are wondering what is celiac disease? Individual people afflicted with the digestive condition have negative reactions to gluten, which is a composite of proteins found in wheat, namely gliadin and glutenin. This happens because the immune systems of these people mistakenly identify the proteins like potential threats, and because of that launch an attack against them. This causes damage to the outer of the small intestine and reduces the ability of absorption of nutrients from the food.
Symptoms range from pain in the abdomen to fatigue from malnutrition. Sunwoo after learning about all these woes from a friend who has a celiac, he wondered if there could be some way to ease them so that once in a whole, foods like pasta, pizza and cake could be enjoyed without to feel ill after that.
Sunwoo has spent 20 years on working on antibodies discovered in the yolks of chicken eggs, named immunoglobulin Y that are produced regarding encounters with foreign substances. He told IFLScience that by exposing the chickens to gluten, he was able to stimulate the production of antibodies against the glutenin and gliadin that were proven to be effective against the mice in pre-clinical trials. Using the egg yolk powder, the researchers discovered a pill that can be taken only 5 minutes before a person eats gluten-containing products.
Sunwoo says that this supplement pill binds with the gluten in the stomach and aids to neutralize it, and because of that it provides a defense to the small intestine, and limits the damage caused by the gluten.
He told Edmonton AM that this is not a treatment for the celiac disease or a cure for the celiac disease. It’s only to try to help those people to improve the quality of life so when they desire to socialize with friends.
He said that people should continue to stick to a gluten-free diet, but it can potentially allow the people to sometimes cheat, even for a few hours.
It has been already proven that the pill is safe in clinical trials, so the next chapter is to prove it really works in people, which Sunwoo hopes to discover next year when the next part of the trials is expected to start. Sunwoo explained to IFLScience that now they know the theoretical amount of gluten that a pill can neutralize.
He added that they need to do more tests in humans to find out if there is a limit to the amount of products with gluten that can be taken. It can vary from person to person. If all goes great, it can reach the shelves in just a few years.