WEDNESDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists believe they've identified the molecular triggers of celiac disease, a finding they say could lead to the first drugs to tame the chronic, painful gut disorder.
People with celiac disease are intolerant to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Consuming these foods triggers an immune reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine, which can prevent the body from absorbing essential vitamins and nutrients.
Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is adoption of a gluten-free diet, which means avoiding many types of bread, pasta, cereal and other foods. But gluten contamination in many foods makes it difficult to avoid and leads to long-lasting intestinal damage in some patients, said study senior author Robert Anderson, head of the celiac disease research laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Parkville, Australia.
Regulating the aberrant immune response to gluten with a drug "would be a much more efficient way of dealing with celiac disease," Anderson said, but an incomplete understanding of how the immune system responds to gluten has prevented researchers from developing such therapies.
Gluten actually consists of many different protein components, and it's been unclear which of these fragments induces the immune response seen in celiac disease.
"You can't design drugs for celiac disease until you know the parts of the gluten that are driving the condition," Anderson explained.
During their investigation, he and his colleagues analyzed immune responses in the blood of more than 200 celiac disease patients after they had consumed meals containing gluten.
The researchers screened the blood samples for responses to thousands of different protein fragments (peptides) found in gluten, and they found that the patients' immune
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