Researchers find gene linked to celiac disease

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One in 133 Americans have celiac disease, although experts say many haven’t been diagnosed.

People with the disease have a reaction to gluten, which is present in anything made with wheat, rye, or barley.

In Monday's medical moment, researchers say they have found a potential cause for the condition, which brings them closer to a cure.

For families of those affected, mealtime takes planning. Ten-year-old Hannah Simon was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago.

Since her diagnosis, she avoids food with gluten. If she doesn’t, she says she throws up and has stomach pain.

Scientists at the University of Chicago are working to determine the cause of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the protein in gluten to damage the small intestine lining.
Researchers know it is genetic. They say once you have the genetic makeup, you are at high risk of developing the disease.

But not everyone with the gene develops the disorder. Bana Jabri and her colleagues say their research shows infection with a common, but mostly harmless virus, called the reovirus, can trigger the disease.

“When you ingest gluten and you have a viral infection all of a sudden the immune system thinks the gluten is like a virus and mounts an inflammatory immune response,” she said.

Jabri says researchers in her lab are looking at whether a vaccine against the virus could also prevent celiac disease. Right now, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

“There’s substitutes for most of the things that you eat that have gluten in them,” she said.

Babies are usually given their first solid foods at about six months, often containing gluten.

Jabri says children are more susceptible to viral infections at this age, and those who have the celiac gene could be at higher risk at that point for developing celiac disease.


REPORT: MB #4354

BACKGROUND: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs in people with a genetic disposition to the condition. Ingesting gluten leads to damage in their small intestine. It is affects about 1 in every 100 people worldwide. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body’s immune system attacks the villi, small fingerlike projections in the lining of the small intestine. These villi promote proper nutrient absorption and when they are damaged the body cannot properly absorb nutrients. Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating food or medicines that contain gluten. If left untreated, it can lead to further serious health problems. This may include development of other autoimmune disorders such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, infertility or miscarriage among other things.

GLUTEN-FREE DIET: Naturally gluten-free food groups include fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry, fish and seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and dairy. Pure wheat and barley grass are gluten-free, but there is gluten within the seeds so if not harvested correctly, there is risk of gluten contamination. There are many naturally gluten-free grains that can be enjoyed, including but not limited to rice, corn, soy, potato, beans, quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats or kasha, amaranth, teff, flax, chia, yucca, and nut flours. Research shows some naturally gluten-free grains may contain gluten from cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains due to harvesting and processing. As a rule, traditional wheat products such as breads, pastas, crackers and other baked goods are not gluten-free, but there may be substitutes to these products that use gluten-free alternatives.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Chicago are working to determine the cause of celiac disease, as not everyone with the gene develops the disorder. Their research shows infection with a common and mostly harmless virus called reovirus can trigger celiac disease. They are looking at whether or not a vaccine against the virus could also prevent a person from developing celiac disease.