Is There A Cure?
Gluten intolerance (Coeliac’s Disease) is a major cause of illness worldwide. In Australia, over 200,000 people are sufferers, with many more remaining undiagnosed. A sensitivity to gluten may also cause symptoms, and result in ill health for many more people. Currently the only effective treatment is for a sufferer to eliminate gluten from the diet. As this needs to be followed life-long, it is quite restrictive.
Research into this condition is now being undertaken around the world, to understand the disease, with the aim of finding a cure. Exciting findings have recently been identified.
At the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, a study is under way. First begun nine years ago, it is in collaboration with researchers from Melbourne and Monash Universities, and UK scientists. Promisingly, three protein fragments of gluten have now been identified as those which cause the most toxicity to sufferers of Coliac’s Disease. These peptides (protein fragments) have now been used by a Melbourne biotech company, Nexpep P/L, in order to develop an immunotherapy designed to desensitize suffers to the toxic effects of gluten, in the same way that desensitivity therapy helps allergy suffers. Three other drugs are also under development, which should assist people with Coeliac’s Disease. (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; Dr Bob Anderson, 2010).
Concurrently, Stamford University Medical Centre has identified a peptide consisting of 33 amino acids. This is very resistant to being further digested, even with prolonged exposure to intestinal enzymes. This peptide is toxic, causing an inflammatory response. The peptide is made of smaller fragments that each can cause an auto-immune response in the body, yet it was found to induce auto-immune activity that was 10-20 times higher than the component fragments did. The scientists theorised that a peptidase (an enzyme that breaks down proteins) would be able to break down the amino acid ‘proline’ in the fragment. In tests conducted, this was shown to occur. Whilst testing on humans will take more years to undertake, it is hoped that peptidase supplementation therapy will assist suffers through dietary means. (Stamford University Medical Centre; Chaitan Khosla, 2010).
Further, Deakin University, also in Melbourne, has several studies being undertaken. Areas of research include studying the effects of gluten on those with a sensitivity to it, rather than an intolerance, and the link gluten plays in the development of schizophrenia.
The current level of interest and research into gluten, and its effects on the body, augers well for significant advancements in the treatment of conditions associated with it.