Researchers at TU Wien, Vienna University of Technology have developed a medication that can alleviate or even completely eliminate the symptoms of celiac disease. They have created a simple medical product that directly attacks the gluten molecules to render them harmless and hopefully, it should be available in ordinary pharmacies as early as 2021.
According to Dr Britta Eggenreich Research Division Biochemical Engineering, Institute of Chemical, Environmental and Bioscience Engineering, TU Wien, Vienna, Austria the aim of the research project was therefore to produce a complex of two such antibody fragments that envelop the gluten molecule at a molecular level so that it can no longer have any further effects in the intestines.
Celiac disease (CD) is one of the most common food-related chronic disorders. It is a genetic disorder mediated by the dietary consumption of prolamins, which are storage proteins of different grains. So far, no therapy exists and patients are bound to maintain a lifelong diet to avoid symptoms and long-term complications
Worldwide, about 1% of the population is estimated to suffer from it. Celiac disease is suspected to be more prevalent in north India as wheat forms the main staple food here. Diagnosis rate of celiac disease is as low as 5% in India.
“Our bodies produce antibodies that fit intruding antigens precisely, like a key to a lock. This immune response makes these antigens harmless,” explains Professor Oliver Spadiut, head of the Integrated Bioprocess Development Research Group at TU Wien. “If a new antibody fragment is found and produced that docks to and blocks the invading gluten molecule without triggering the immune system.
In the project, certain bacteria have to be reprogrammed so that they produce exactly the desired antibody fragment. “The formation of such proteins in a bacterium is a highly complicated process,” explains Oliver Spadiut. “It can easily happen that the proteins are not folded exactly as we want.” Instead of the desired antibody fragments, so-called “inclusion bodies” are formed – small particles consisting of incorrectly folded proteins. A process, therefore, had to be developed to refold these inclusion bodies and to obtain the desired proteins from them.
Such processes, in which the folding of proteins is specifically altered, have not yet been studied in great detail and so they are not very efficient. “You have to precisely understand the chemical processes involved and intervene in a complicated way,” says Oliver Spadiut. “It has therefore taken a while, but 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”
The project was supported by the industrial partner SCIOTEC Diagnostic Technologies GmbH, who will now bring the new medical product to the market. “It will be a preparation that celiac patients can take together with gluten-containing foods to alleviate coeliac symptoms,” explains Oliver Spadiut. “It remains to be seen whether the symptoms will disappear completely or will only be alleviated. The precise effects will probably vary from person to person. In any case, we firmly expect the product to be available in ordinary pharmacies as early as 2021.”
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