Pill allows celiac sufferers to ingest gluten

A decade of work at the University of Alberta has created a pill made from antibodies in chicken yolks that binds gluten

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Celiac sufferers may soon be able to have their cake and eat it too.

University of Alberta researchers have created a pill that uses natural antibodies in chicken yolk to prevent celiac sufferers from reacting to gluten. The natural supplement prevents the absorption of giladin, a component of gluten that people with celiac disease are unable to digest.

“Antibodies are a powerful natural gift that prevent diseases,” said Hoon Sunwoo, an associate professor in the department of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

“The egg yolk antibody, in its natural form, contains a high level of very specific antibodies against gluten. These antibodies are able to neutralize the gluten from food,” he said.

The celiac sufferer can take the pill five or 10 minutes before they eat a food containing gluten. The supplement binds with gluten in the stomach, preventing its absorption by the small intestine.

It’s not a cure, just a temporary solution that allows a celiac sufferer to eat gluten — found in food and beverages made from wheat, barley, rye, and triticale — every once in a while, explained Sunwoo.

The project has been in the works for 10 years. Sunwoo, who has spent 20 years researching chicken immunology and antibodies, was inspired to start his research after learning about celiac disease from a friend. He began by isolating the problematic molecular component of gluten and using the egg yolk antibody to fight it.

A Canadian human safety trial for the product has just finished, with promising results. Sunwoo and research partner Jeong Sim, a retired professor from the department of agriculture, life and environmental sciences, plan to start a human efficacy trial in June 2016. It’s hoped the product will be available in the next couple of years.

The project was initially funded by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. TEC Edmonton recently brokered a deal worth over $2.5 million with the U.K.-based firm, Vetanda Group, to fund more research.

Sunwoo who has a PhD in food science technology from the University of Alberta and a post-doctorate in immunology, is interested in pursuing more research on using natural antibodies to treat other digestive diseases like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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