Celiac Disease Research – What it means to you

Keeping up with news about research into celiac disease, gluten-intolerance, the gluten-free diet and related topics can keep you very busy.And sometimes when you read about new studies it can still be difficult to figure out exactly what they will mean in your gluten-free life. Is a promising treatment likely to move from the lab to real life in five years or ten? Can a new way of diagnosing celiac disease or gluten intolerance get you a definitive answer after years of uncertainty? What about studies into safe levels of gluten in your food? Are there links between celiac disease and other medical conditions?In upcoming issues of Gluten-Free Living we’ll give you important information about research and how to interpret it. More about that in a minute.

First we wanted to let you know about a new study from the University of Chicago, where researchers have been able to create and then cure celiac disease in mice by manipulating an inflammatory protein commonly found in the gut of humans who have the disease.

In a study published in the journal Nature, mice who were genetically  susceptible to celiac disease were given an increased amount of interleukin 15 causing them to develop symptoms of the disease. But when the IL-15 was blocked, the mice reverted to normal and could tolerate gluten again.

Interestingly, when the mice were given retinoic acid, a derivative of
Vitamin A thought to reduce inflammation in the intestine, they got worse instead of better.

So what does all this mean to those who have celiac disease?

The hope is that results will eventually help treat and possibly prevent development of celiac disease in those who are most at risk. The study identifies IL-15 as one, perhaps critical, way people lose tolerance to gluten and could lead to ways to block it, said Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor who works with the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center.

In fact, clinical trials of medications that block IL-15 are already under way for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, another inflammatory disorder. Early results have been encouraging.

The study also raises questions about the use of retinoic acid, which is found in acne treatments such as Retin-A and Accutane, by those who have celiac disease. The retinoids seem to act with the IL-15 to promote inflammation in the intestine.

This study is just one of many related to celiac disease currently underway. To help readers of Gluten-Free Living understand what some of these studies mean, we are launching a new research column in our upcoming issue. The column is written by Jason Clevenger, PhD, a scientist with the consulting firm Exponent, Inc. He is the former editor of the Healthy Villi Newsletter published by the Boston celiac disease support group. Jason became interested in celiac disease when he met his wife Charmaine, who had been diagnosed while she was in college. His column will include a summary of each study in language you can understand even if you don’t have a medical degree. And it will tell you why it’s important to you.

Nearly seven years ago, when the National Institutes of Health held the first consensus conference on celiac disease and helped usher it into a new era of understanding, the point was made that not enough scientists were interested in studying the disease.  That, like many other things related to the gluten-free lifestyle, has changed.

We’ve designed our new research column to help you make sense out of the growing scientific interest in celiac disease, gluten intolerance and the gluten-free diet. Look for it in our new issue, due out in early March.