While diagnosing celiac disease in children can be difficult, getting that diagnosis early is important because parents should know to take precautions when it comes to keeping their kids gluten free and healthy.
Current tests can be painful, time consuming, and costly. However, new research out of Flinders University in Australia shows promise that a simple breath test may be on the way.
According to researchers, trials will begin for the new dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4) breath test. This test could replace an invasive procedure where a doctor inserts a pressure-sensitive tube through the nose into the stomach. By comparison, the breath test is simple: patients would only have to blow into a glass tube.
“This breath test represents a potentially new way to non-invasively measure gut health,” said lead researcher and Flinders research fellow Dr. Roger Yazbek. “Not only will these tests improve patient quality of life but potentially save the health-care system time and money.”
Lower levels of DPP4, a digestive enzyme, may indicate the presence of celiac disease, said Yazbeck. The breath test might provide a new tool for diagnosing celiac in children.
“Some research groups have suggested that DPP4 is involved in the breakdown of gluten, and that people with celiac disease have a reduced amount of the DPP4 enzyme along their small intestine. However, the tools to measure this in celiac disease have not been available,” said Yazbek. “This breath test will help us to answer this question, and we are about to begin a trial…to shed some insight into this question.”
Larger clinical trials would have to occur following the pilot study. If the test proves viable there would be broader applications, including testing for gastrointestinal damage. Emerging research also shows support for the style of “13C isotope” breath test. That type of test could detect changes in liver or pancreatic function and gastric emptying. Besides diagnosing celiac disease, the test might be also used for cancer screening.
“Certain cancers also exhibit high expression of DPP4 as exemplified by the adenocarcinoma cell line in this study and this may provide a measure of cancer activity and response to therapy,” according to the university’s report published recently in Scientific American.