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University of Alberta researchers develop pill to help people with celiac disease

WATCH ABOVE: A local research team has come up with a pill that could help people tolerate gluten. Su-Ling Goh has the details.

EDMONTON — Researchers at the University of Alberta believe they have found a new way to help people with celiac disease enjoy certain foods they usually have to avoid.

Using the yolks of chicken eggs, two U of A professors have developed a natural supplement that prevents the absorption of gliadin, a component of gluten that people with celiac disease have trouble digesting.

Hoon Sunwoo, an associate professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, says the supplement binds with gluten in the stomach to help neutralize it, providing a defence to the small intestine which limits the damage caused by gliadin.

“It is our hope that this supplement will improve the quality of life for those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance,” said Sunwoo, who has family and friends with celiac disease.

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“I wanted to learn more about why some people cannot tolerate gluten and if there was a way to reduce the symptoms,” he added. “With gluten present in so much of our food, I wanted to find a way to improve the quality of life for my friend, his family and others.”

READ MORE: Gluten-free for weight loss? You’re doing more harm than good: study

An estimated one in 133 Canadians suffers from celiac disease, according to the Canadian Celiac Association. The disease causes the absorptive surface of the small intestine to be damaged by gluten, which results in the body not being able to absorb nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and barley.

The pill has proven to be safe, now the research team needs to prove how effective it is.

Sunwoo and his partner, Jeong Sim, a retired professor from the university’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, will start a trial with 200 patients from Edmonton and Calgary in June 2016.

The pair hopes the pill could be available to Canadians within the next three years.