For those who cannot stomach gluten due to celiac disease or similar ailments, a pill that would somehow eliminate gluten during digestion would be a welcome miracle. Thanks to some university research and military funding, such a miracle might be in the not too distant future.
According to a report by NPR, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded a study for computer-developed medical defenses against chemical and biological warfare (i.e. anthrax). The study determined that such threats could be vulnerable to well-designed enzymes, and created techniques to develop these enzymes.
As a happy coincidence, researchers at the University of Washington determined that one of these techniques, a program called FoldIt, could be used to find an enzyme that breaks down gluten in one’s stomach. With this enzyme, a gluten-neutralizing pill would break down gluten before it could make a celiac-sufferer ill, and could also help those with celiac absorb needed nutrients.
The aforementioned NPR report quoted Justin Siegel, a researcher involved with the study, who noted that “the idea is you would pop your pill and then drink your beer, eat your pizza and cookies, and be quite happy.” This would be welcome news to the gluten-intolerant.
The good news is that the enzyme created at the University of Washington effectively neutralized gluten, and the researchers involved founded Proteus Biologics to eventually market their discovery. The less-good news, however, is that this was performed in a test tube, and has yet to go through clinical trials. While such trials could take several years to effectively prove that the gluten-killing pill is both useful and safe, such trials are taking place, and this alone is an encouraging fact.