WSU professor's work may offer 'very huge human health benefit'
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PULLMAN, Wash. -- A Washington State University researcher's work on wheat and barley to allow consumers with celiac disease to eat the grains could have global ramifications, a Washington Grain Commission member says.
Diter von Wettstein, WSU crop and soil sciences professor, is the world's foremost expert on celiac disease, commissioner Dana Herron said. His work focuses on changing the enzymes in wheat and barley to mitigate celiac sufferers' response to gluten, Herron said.
Von Wettstein said up to 1 percent of people in the United States and elsewhere cannot eat wheat, barley or rye products because of celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a genetic condition that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Symptoms include cramps, diarrhea and malnutrition. The disease is triggered by eating food containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
The only treatment currently available is to avoid the three grains. If the grains can be modified to allow celiac sufferers to digest them, their diets would be less restricted.
"If he can commercialize this technology, or if the university can help him, it would have a very huge human health benefit to people all over the world," Herron said during the Spillman Agronomy Farm field day July 7.
Herron said a major food processing company or pharmaceutical company will be interested in von Wettstein's technology when it becomes available in the years ahead.
"I think it's more than a niche market," he said. "I think it will probably change the way we view gluten products from this point forward."