A study by researchers from the University of Alberta shows promise in a new treatment in the form of a pill for celiac disease, one which uses an antibody derived from egg yolks to neutralize gluten’s impact on the digestive system.
Estimated to affect about one per cent of the population worldwide, celiac disease is described as an intolerance to ingested gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley which for celiacs can result in the malabsorption of food nutrients. Gluten intolerance leads to a range of symptoms such as anemia, chronic diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, bloating, confusion and irritability.
So far, the main treatment option for celiacs has been a strict diet regimen involving the total avoidance of gluten. But even for those faithfully adhering to such a program, the complete avoidance of exposure to gluten remains a problem, say the study’s authors.
“Total avoidance of gluten is difficult, and as many foods contain gluten, product labeling can be vague, and gluten can be a hidden compound found in pharmaceuticals, desserts, flavorings, and sauces,” say the authors, who hail from the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “Thus, there is a clear need for the development of a safe and efficient therapy for celiac disease, to supplement the gluten-free diet.”
Previous research has shown that an egg yolk-derived immunoglobulin antibody is able to neutralize the effects of gliadin (gluten protein) in mice, and egg yolk powder containing the antibody has itself been deemed safe for oral use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The new study involved ten adults, all diagnosed with celiac disease, who were given pills with the egg yolk antibody to take before meals over a trial period of six weeks. Participants completed a Celiac Symptom Index during the six weeks, recording the presence and severity of 18 various celiac symptoms. The results showed that not only did the patients report fewer adverse events during the trial period, they also reported fewer of the 18 celiac symptoms.
“Celiac-related symptoms did not worsen during the treatment period, and in fact, a pattern of improvement was observed for most participants, particularly regarding tiredness, headache, and bloating, which reached or trended toward statistical significance,” say the study’s authors, who say they would like to see more and larger trials of the experimental treatment in the near future.
For one of the study’s authors, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Hoon Sunwoo, the research has been a multi-year quest brought about by a personal relationship. “My friend is celiac. We haven’t had any entertaining with beers. So, that’s why I develop this pill — for my friend,” Sunwoo told the CBC in 2015.
Sunwoo hopes that the development of the gluten-neutralizing pill will represent a safe and effective means for celiac sufferers to live a better life. “This is not treating the celiac disease or curing celiac disease,” said Sunwoo. “It’s just to try to help them improve their quality of life so when they want to socialize with peers or friends.”
The new study is published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.