Celiac disease is relatively common. In fact, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the autoimmune disorder affects 1 in 100 people worldwide. However, while it is manageable — those living with celiac are simply advised to change their diet and to avoid gluten — if and when those living with the condition do eat gluten, it triggers an immune response in the body that attacks the small intestine. This reaction causes a whole host of gastrointestinal problems for people living with celiac disease, but the good news is there's hope.
According to research published in the journal BMC Biotechnology, a new drug may offer much-needed relief to those living with the condition.
The medical product, which has yet to be named, is being developed at Vienna University of Technology in collaboration with Sciotec Diagnostic Technologies GmbH. And while other celiac medications seek to alter one's immune system to make it less sensitive, this drug will essentially "turn off" the irritant.
According to a press release, the product will "directly attack… gluten molecules to render them harmless."
Professor Oliver Spadiut, head of the Integrated Bioprocess Development Research Group at TU Wien, explained the process in a statement. "Our bodies produce antibodies that fit intruding antigens precisely, like a key to a lock. This immune response makes these antigens harmless," Spadiut said. "If a new antibody fragment is found and produced that docks to and blocks the invading gluten molecule without triggering the immune system, the symptoms of celiac disease can be suppressed."
Of course, the process sounds simpler than it is.
"The formation of such proteins in a bacterium is a highly complicated process," Spadiut explained. "You have to precisely understand the chemical processes involved and intervene in a complicated way."
Still, researchers are hopeful. In fact Spadiut said he is confident in the product's development process and results: "We have now developed a process that can be easily reproduced, can be scaled up to industrial application and delivers a very good yield of the desired product."
As such, researchers believe the product will be available as early as 2021.