New Method Reduces Toxicity of Gluten for People With Celiac Disease

A team of Spanish and Portuguese researchers has developed a method to modify gluten with the aim of reducing its toxicity in people with celiac disease. Researchers hope the method will one day allow people with celiac disease to eat wheat-based foods.

What’s more, they found that in controlled baking tests, the modified wheat flour they created behaved similarly to regular wheat flour — demonstrating that it may be possible someday to create wheat-based products for people with celiac disease.

Reorganizing gluten proteins

To create a form of gluten that’s less toxic for people with celiac disease, researchers at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) in Spain and Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) in Portugal produced a reaction using a compound called chitosan, which is an edible polysaccharide. The two molecules — gluten and chitosan — formed what the researchers call “mechanically interlocked supramolecular assemblies,” making the gluten less prone to digestion and exposure to intestinal cells, according to a UPM press release.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, the researchers exposed intestinal cells derived from people with celiac disease to the new formation of gluten and chitosan. They found that two markers of an inflammatory response to gluten were lower in this situation than when the cells were exposed to traditional gluten molecules.

“We do not remove the gluten proteins” to create the chemical structure used in the experiment, explains Marta Rodríguez-Quijano, a member of the research team at UPM. “We modify them minimally to avoid the toxicity of gluten for these people.”

Dough of the future?

In a separate study published in the journal Food Hydrocolloids, the researchers demonstrated that the gluten-chitosan complex could be used to make bread with visual and textural properties similar to bread made from traditional wheat flour.

The research team hopes that their finding will help trigger a shift in how products suitable for people with celiac disease are developed — away from alternative flours designed to mimic the properties of wheat flour, and toward actual wheat flour that can be made safe for people with celiac disease.

“We believe this research project will allow developing wheat-based products with sensory, nutritional and technological properties similar to traditional products, but safe for people suffering from celiac disease,” says Rodríguez-Quijano.

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