Celiac disease is one of the worst autoimmune disorders to live with on the planet. Anytime you eat something with gluten, you risk potential intestine damage, which can lead to nervous system disorders and other diseases. The only current way to “treat” this condition is to avoid eating gluten completely. Considering that it shows up in everything from bread to soy sauce, it’s difficult to not consume. However, a breakthrough in research may lead to a new treatment that could help those with celiac disease tolerate gluten.
This breakthrough is a new enzyme, KumaMax, that can break down gluten. While other enzymes do exist and have gone through tests, they have failed at the clinical trial level. KumaMax, however, differs from these proteins in that it came to life through synthetic bio-engineering. Using a “video game” that creates synthetic DNA to code for proteins, undergraduates at the University of Washington (UW) conceived an enzyme that can survive stomach acid and tear through gluten.
The engineered DNA is then inserted into bacteria that make the KumaMax protein for larger-scale production. Currently, university spinoff business PvP Biologics is attempting to gain FDA approval for this new synthetic enzyme. PvP is licensing the enzyme from the University of Washington to make production possible. UC Davis professor Justin Siegel, who previously researched at UW, and UW professor Ingrid Swanson Pultz, are co-founders of this new company.
While some people may be concerned over the fact that this treatment involves consuming a biosynthetic enzyme, PvP CEO and president Adam Simpson assures Foodbeast that this protein will be perfectly fine to ingest. “Enzymes are proteins, and proteins make up about 40% of the diet for a human. The human body is well adapted to breakdown and excrete ingested proteins,” Simpson states, meaning that our body will treat this enzyme just like any other protein.
PvP is currently conducting safety testing of KumaMax, and hopes to begin clinical trials as early as next year. If those prove to be successful, KumaMax could be the first-ever treatment for celiac disease. However, Simpson says that it’s too early right now to give a timeline as to when that would be available. Additionally, you still shouldn’t be consuming gluten with aplomb while being treated with KumaMax. According to Simpson, the enzyme is meant to reduce symptoms and intestinal damage when the protein network is accidentally consumed. Thus, it’s not particularly designed to handle consumption of something like a massive hunk of bread. Still, the fact that gluten could be broken down by medicine is ground-breaking.
We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this research to see where it heads from here. Hopefully, it leads to a treatment – and maybe even a cure – for those who suffer from celiac disease.