Beyond Celiac has awarded close to $450,000 to two scientists conducting groundbreaking celiac disease studies. One study is aimed at killer cells that cause the actual intestinal tissue damage in celiac disease and the other is researching a more exact way to measure intestinal damage revealed in a biopsy.
In addition, Beyond Celiac awarded an Early Career grant of $150,000 earlier this year, bringing the total invested in research to nearly $600,000 in 2019. Overall, Beyond Celiac gave top priority in awarding these two newest 2019 grants to research investigating the role of T-cells in driving the immune response in celiac disease. White blood cells that function as the body’s disease-fighting soldiers, T-Cells are improperly activated by gluten in those who have celiac disease.
“The scientific world is looking at celiac disease as part of the broader autoimmune disease spectrum, and progress is being made as a result. At Beyond Celiac, we remain committed to our mission of advancing research with an international scope and supporting scientists who study immunological diseases,” said Alice Bast, CEO of Beyond Celiac.
The grant winters include a professor at the University of Oxford, England and the director of research at the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
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Paul Klenerman, PhD, a professor of gastroenterology and an immunologist who has done extensive work in Hepatitis C and HIV, has received the Established Investigator Award, a grant of up to $100,000 for each of three years. The award places emphasis on immunology and is designed to support novel approaches to understanding celiac disease. It also encourages scientists working in another related field, like Klenerman, to turn their attention to celiac disease.
Klenerman’s research will focus on T-cells in the inner gut lining – killer CD8 T-cells. Currently, it’s known that a particular type of CD8 T-cell is abundant in the gut of celiac disease patients even when they are on the gluten-free diet.
“These cells have features which suggest they are responding to a particular, unknown signal, and acting to cause inflammation, potentially driving celiac disease,” Klenerman explained. “We do not yet fully know what activates them, how they cause damage and how they can be regulated.”
His work will attempt to answer these questions and look more closely at a new cell type that is driving inflammation and tissue damage in celiac disease. Klenerman plans to explore the cells’ role in celiac disease and what triggers them, which may directly lead to improved tests and treatments.
The Pilot and Feasibility Award, which is given to help scientists collect the preliminary data needed to begin answering major questions about celiac disease, has been awarded to Jocelyn Silvester, MD, director of research at the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Silvester will receive a grant of up to $80,000 for each of two years.
Preliminary data show that transcriptomics – the study of all ribonucleic acid molecules within a cell – of intestinal biopsies can identify genes that correlate to inflammation caused by gluten. This type of early phase of study could lead to breakthroughs for larger scale research or clinical trials.
“When Beyond Celiac formed its Scientific Advisory Council earlier this year, one goal was to give vigorous review to the grant applications we receive,” said Marie Robert, MD, chief scientific officer of Beyond Celiac and the only CSO of a celiac disease patient advocacy group in the United States. “We achieved that goal through the selection of top notch research by top notch scientists.”
Beyond Celiac is a leading research-driven celiac disease organization working to drive diagnosis, advance research and accelerate the discovery of new treatments and a cure. For more on the group, see here.