Celiac disease is a condition that results in an individual's immune system attacking it’s own small intestine as a result of gluten consumption. Researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Alberta published a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology that aimed to identify gastrointestinal bacteria that are able to break down gluten proteins, possibly opening the door for therapeutic interventions. To do this, they studied the gastrointestinal tract of pigs, as they are physiologically similar to humans.
The scientists found four strains from the Lactobacillus species that had the greatest ability to degrade gluten, L. amylovorus, L. johnsonii, L.ruminis, and L. salivarius. Pigs were fed a diet supplemented with 20% gluten for at least 16 weeks and samples of their gastrointestinal bacteria were collected. They found that the four bacterial strains were enriched, and these strains were capable of degrading specific molecules that have been linked to the immune response in celiac disease.
This study identified specific bacteria that could potentially be used to treat celiac disease. Other studies have also identified L. ruminis and L. amylovorous as bacteria that are primary degraders of gluten, making them prime candidates for therapeutic use. Currently, the only way for an individual with celiac disease to remain healthy is to avoid any product containing gluten. In the future, it may be possible for bacterial strains, possibly those identified in this study, to be introduced into the gut of a celiac disease patient through a probiotic or other method to allow for the digestion of gluten.