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Vaccine for celiac disease a step closer to reality

By Jessica Ivins  |  Posted May 16th, 2011 @ 4:14pm


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A new breakthrough in the battle against celiac disease -- scientists in Australia have come a step closer to developing the world's first effective vaccine.


Our Phase I study showed (the vaccine) was safe to use and well tolerated, and importantly, that it had the desired biological response in patients with celiac disease.

–Dr. Bob Anderson


According to the Mayo Clinic, people living with the digestive condition can't handle foods like bread, pasta, cookies, pizza -- basically anything containing wheat, barley or rye. That's because the protein gluten causes an immune reaction in their small intestines which can lead to serious damage to the organ.

Even worse, the disease prevents the body from properly absorbing certain nutrients -- which can lead to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

As of today, there's no cure for celiac, and it can only be treated by eliminating gluten from the diet.

What is... celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. -PubMed Health

But that could soon change. A team of doctors at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute completed the first phase of a clinical trial on a new potential vaccine which doctors say aims to essentially turn off the body's toxic reaction to gluten.

They presented their findings last week at the Digestive Disease Week symposium in Chicago.

During the 3-week trial, doctors administered weekly injections of the vaccine to celiac patients adhering to a strict gluten-free diet and then measured the drug's effect.

"Our Phase I study showed (the vaccine) was safe to use and well tolerated, and importantly, that it had the desired biological response in patients with celiac disease," said Dr. Bob Anderson with the institute's immunology division. Anderson identified three "toxic peptides" in gluten that are most harmful to celiac patients.


One in every 133 people living in the U.S. suffers from celiac disease.

So far, doctors say the new vaccine could treat up to 90 percent of patients living with the genetic form of the disease. Phase II of the trial will likely take place within the next 10 months, according to Anderson.

If the vaccine is proven affective, it could mean those living with celiac disease could once again indulge in gluten products without the pain.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse , about 2 million people in the U.S. -- or one in every 133 -- is living with the disease. Each patient is affected in a different way, with symptoms ranging from diarrhea or abdominal pain to mood shifts and depression.

E-mail: jrogers@ksl.com

Image courtesy: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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