SEATTLE--A diagnosis of celiac disease means one thing. No more gluten. And even with gluten-free products, it can be hard to avoid. Help could be on the way from UW Medicine researchers who say they are on the cusp of the first celiac cure.

Susan Fox is one of an estimated three million Americans with celiac - an autoimmune disease that turns even a small amount of gluten into a serious health hazard, causing intestinal damage and chronic problems. She's perfected a gluten-free combination that replaces regular flour when she bakes. Her kitchen includes pans for her food only, and one corner of the counter top is a gluten free zone. "Nothing with regular bread or tortillas is to be made here," she said. "I just need to know for sure that there's a safe place in my kitchen for me to quickly come and make something for myself that isn't contaminated."

But while Susan can control what happens in her own home, eating out can be a gamble. "That's hard. And I know a lot of celiacs who don't go out to eat or rarely go out to eat," she said.

The ticket to freedom could be coming from the University of Washington. Researchers are developing a pill that would launch an enzyme to break down gluten in the stomach. The enzyme would break it apart into amino acids that could be absorbed with no harm done. Ingrid Swanson Pultz leads the research. "It's an oral protein," Pultz said. "So it's basically a protein you'll eat just like any other protein. But first we need to do those tests the FDA requires to go into people. Then our goal is to go to human clinical trials."

Those human trial will likely happen within two years. Word is spreading quickly. "This is a molecule that really stands to make an impact on people's lives," Pultz said. "We're not the only ones developing a therapeutic. There are several going through the pipeline. Of course we think ours is the most promising, but just hold on for a few more years and hopefully there will be something out there. It really effects people's lives. So I'm very excited about this."

So is Susan Fox. She's learned to live with celiac. But she could also live with a night out. "That would be nice to just be able to enjoy it and not worry about it," she said.

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