Politécnica de Madrid

A promising alternative to gluten-free products

A team of researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) along with other research institutions have developed a method that will allow us to reduce the toxicity of gluten for people who suffer from celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a common intestinal pathology in our society, and a strict gluten-free diet is the only therapy available so far. However, this situation may change. An international team of researchers, in which UPM and UTAD researchers are involved, has unveiled that the molecular reorganization of gluten proteins using natural polysaccharides can reduce its capacity to trigger an immune response in celiac disease.

The results show we can obtain a wheat-based functional product for celiac patients, opening in this way a new perspective concerning the quest for alternatives of gluten-exclusion diet.

Gluten is a protein complex found in common wheat grains and other cereals, such as rye, spelt or barley. Some protein fragments trigger an immune reaction in people affected by celiac disease, altering the structure and function of intestinal epithelial cells.

Cedit: pixabay.

Today, people with celiac disease must follow a restrictive diet, avoiding any food containing gluten. Sticking to this diet takes a lot of effort and some people cannot follow it for long periods of time.

Gluten-free products have emerged with growing concern associated with gluten-related intolerances and are characterized by a range of food products that try to mimic the corresponding traditional foods by replacing gluten by other ingredients such as polysaccharides and proteins of various origin in order to provide structure to the dough and a suitable texture.

Nevertheless, the cost of a gluten-free diet can be much higher than a diet without restrictions, often unbalanced in terms of nutritional value and gluten-free products have also some technological limitations, being characterized by poor textural properties.

In an attempt to overcome the gluten-free diet requirement, some approaches have been conducted aiming at the detoxification of gluten proteins.

This method, that includes the use of natural polysaccharides such as chitosan, consist of the reorganization of gluten proteins that trigger a decrease in digestibility and, consequently, in the release of proteins and toxic peptides for celiac patients. Marta Rodríguez-Quijano, a UPM researcher involved in this study explains, “we do not remove the gluten proteins, we modify them minimally to avoid the toxicity gluten for these people”.

Bread obtained by treatment with chitosan (right) suitable for people who suffer from celiac disease. Credit:  Food Hydrocolloids, Volume 90, May 2019

Besides, researchers had verified in a previous study that gluten detoxification does not affect the flour to make food such as bread. They maintain their baking, visual and textural sensory attributes.

Marta Rodríguez-Quijano also says, “we believe this research project will allow developing wheat-based products with sensory, nutritional and technological properties similar to traditional products, but safe for people suffering from celiac disease.

Due to the global prevalence of the celiac disease and the lack of treatment for this disease, this study could represent a paradigm shift by developing an alternative to gluten free-products.

The research institutions involved in this projects are the following: Además de la Universidad Tras Os Montes & Alto Douro y la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Génétique Diversité Ecophysiologie des Céréales (GDEC), the research unit of Transformations et Agro-ressources from UniLaSalle− and the Institute of Protein Biochemistry (IBP) from Napoles.


Ribeiro, Miguel; Picascia, Stefania; Rhazi, Larbi; Gianfrani, Carmen; Carrillo, Jose Maria; Rodriguez-Quijano, Marta; Branlard, Gerard; Nunes, Fernando M. (2019) Effect of in situ gluten-chitosan interlocked self-assembled supramolecular architecture on rheological properties and functionality of reduced celiac-toxicity wheat flour. FOOD HYDROCOLLOIDS 90: 266-275. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2018.12.026.

Ribeiro, Miguel; Picascia, Stefania; Rhazi, Larbi; Gianfrani, Carmen; Carrillo, José María, Rodriguez-Quijano, Marta; Branlard, Gerard; Nunes, Fernando M. (2018) In Situ Gluten-Chitosan Interlocked Self-Assembled Supramolecular Architecture Reduces T-Cell-Mediated Immune Response to Gluten in Celiac Disease. MOLECULAR NUTRITION & FOOD RESEARCH 62 (23). Art. Num. 1800646. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201800646