01/30/2013 01:40 pm ET

Celiac Disease Pill? Scientists Find Potential Therapeutic For Gluten Intolerance

People with lactose intolerance have a lactase pill available that helps them breakdown the protein so they can eat dairy without discomfort. And in the near future, people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease could have a pill so they can eat gluten, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Washington explained that healthy people without gluten intolerance or celiac disease have stomach enzymes that break down gluten without any consequence. But in people with these conditions, the broken-down gluten parts -- called peptides -- cause inflammation, leading to symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea and irritability.

Now, the researchers have identified an enzyme that breaks down the peptides even further and have modified it in such a way that they believe could alleviate the painful symptoms that occur when someone with celiac or gluten intolerance consumes gluten.

After identifying the naturally occurring enzyme, the researchers used computational modeling to engineer a new enzyme that was able to degrade nearly all of the peptides that affect celiac disease sufferers in under an hour. The computer engineered enzyme remains theoretical, but the researchers believe that it could lead to an actual treatment:

"Through identification of a natural enzyme... we were able to generate an enzyme with potential as a therapeutic for celiac disease," wrote the researchers.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, one in every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease. However, a recent study from Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that celiac disease might be under-diagnosed in this country because of low biopsy rates.