Coeliac disease is a common autoimmune-like illness caused by gluten. The condition affects over 350,000 Australians, causing substantial morbidity, impaired quality of life and increased health care costs.
Coeliac disease is a common autoimmune-like illness that results from the loss of ‘normal’ tolerance to the common and usually harmless dietary protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. The adverse immune response to gluten in coeliac disease can cause serious health issues including higher rates of infection, malnutrition, osteoporosis and cancer.
There is a strong need to improve its low rate of diagnosis, better manage the unpleasant and often debilitating symptoms caused by gluten, and develop a more effective treatment.
Associate Professor Jason Tye-Din, head of coeliac research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, received over $1.5 million to undertake a double-blind, placebo-controlled gluten challenge study in patients with coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity and healthy controls.
Two key aims of this study are to confirm the accuracy of a new blood-based immune test to diagnose coeliac disease and understand how gluten causes symptoms in coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
“Our program aims to address the most significant unmet needs experienced by patients from diagnosis through to treatment to improve their health and quality of life."
This study will introduce gluten to volunteers to assess the immune system changes that occur in the blood and intestine in those who develop symptoms.
“We will collect blood and intestinal biopsies before and after the challenge to study the immune cells and chemical mediators responsible for mediating the effects of gluten. In particular, we will focus on the crucial early hours following exposure when symptoms are occurring,” explained A/Professor Tye-Din.
The findings of the research will help understand the mechanism for symptoms caused by gluten in coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity and may identify targets for drugs that can effectively treat or prevent these symptoms.
A/Professor Tye-Din’s research program focuses on improving approaches to coeliac disease diagnosis, optimising monitoring and medical care, and improving upon the gluten-free diet.
“While current treatment with a strict and lifelong gluten-free diet is the only approach that avoids the adverse effects of gluten, it is a substantial burden and not always effective,” said A/Professor Tye-Din.
“The NHMRC Investigator Grant funding is a crucial boost to our coeliac research program. It will provide vital support for a suite of clinical studies and lab-based immune analyses,” said A/Professor Tye-Din.
The benefits that result from a detailed understanding of the physiological and immune responses to gluten may greatly improve the health and quality of life of patients suffering from coeliac disease and gluten-related diseases.
A full list of grant recipients is available on NHMRC’s website.