File this one under: cooooooool.

We all know that right now the only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong avoidance of gluten. Thankfully, there are quite a few researchers out there trying to broaden our options. There are vaccines in the works, and also some products that should allow the body to process gluten — sort of like a Lactaid pill.

They’re all years away at this point (don’t throw away those gluten-free dining cards quite yet!), but some Swiss researches just figured out a pretty nifty way to test the efficacy of the pills.
In theory, these magical pills will alter the gluten molecule, rendering it nontoxic. This could happen one of two ways:

  • by breaking apart the toxic fragments of gluten into even smaller, nontoxic fragments (much like the way Lactaid pills deliver an enzyme that breaks down lactose). Essentially, gluten fission.
  • by binding the toxic fragments of gluten into larger fragments that pass through the digestive tract without being broken down. Essentially, gluten fusion.

Professor Jean-Christophe Leroux at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich had some questions about the fission method: how could he tell that an enzyme was working? How much of it does it take to detoxify how much gluten?

According to this article on the Institute’s site, fluorescence is the answer. Leroux and his team took some gluten molecules and packed each of them with a fluorescent dye and a “muting” agent. When the molecule was broken apart, the muting agent would let go of the dye and the molecule would start to glow.

They then fed this booby-trapped gluten to some mice, followed by one of two potentially gluten-destroying enzymes. By monitoring the mice, the scientists could determine when the enzymes were activated and how active they were.

A big thank you from me to the mice — here’s hoping this discovery speeds the eventual release of a gluten-destroying pill.