In partnership with WSU, ag technology company Arcadia Biosciences, Inc. has received a grant to develop wheat varieties with reduced celiac disease-causing proteins.
Arcadia and WSU received a Phase I grant in 2005 to identify wheat plants with low levels of proteins that are most toxic to individuals with celiac disease. The recent two-year, $855,500 Small Business Technology Transfer grant will help fund Phase II development of the wheat varieties.
 
Although a commercialization timeline for the release of new wheat varieties has not been announced, the research partners expect to complete Phase II research in mid-2011.
 
Arcadia is an agricultural technology company focused on developing technologies and products that benefit the environment and human health.
Phase II activities will take a broader approach and seek to remove a far greater number of toxic proteins while maintaining levels of proteins that are critical for bread-making qualities. Arcadia also believes that removal of targeted toxic proteins could cause an increase in beneficial proteins and potentially lead to more nutritious bread.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that, in sensitive individuals, results from a toxic reaction to certain proteins found in specific grains, including wheat. This reaction in celiac sufferers causes damage to the small intestine and inhibits proper food absorption.
 
It is estimated that approximately one percent of Americans have the disease. The incidence is higher in some northern European countries.
 
A study by the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic released last July found that celiac disease is four times more common today than it was 50 years ago. The study attributed this increase to the improvement in diagnostic tools as well as unknown environmental factors.
“Celiac disease sufferers have to make significant dietary adjustments in order to avoid potentially severe impacts,” said Eric Rey, president and CEO of Arcadia. “And while the range of food products continues to expand in response to the rising numbers of diagnosed celiac sufferers, certain grains remain off-limits.
 
“Development of wheat varieties with minimal amounts of celiac-triggering proteins can dramatically expand food choices and the quality of life for celiac-sufferers,” he said. “The progress under our Phase I grant has made us increasingly optimistic about our ability to deliver wheat varieties that people with celiac disease can enjoy. If the approach we are exploring in the Phase II grant is successful, our new wheat varieties may also appeal to a much broader market.”