COELIACS may soon find that they’re able to chow down on bread and pasta like the rest of us.
The world’s first vaccine for people living with the disease has been developed by researchers in Australia, and could see an end to restrictive gluten-free diets.
The Nexvax2 vaccine aims to reprogramme coeliacs‘ immune system response to gluten.
In most people, the small bowel is where 90 per cent of digestion happens.
With coeliacs, however, gluten-rich grub damages the small bowel by inflaming cells in the gut and stops absorption.
That break in absorption can then lead to a number of serious health consequences if left untreated, including malnutrition.
It’s a serious condition and one that shouldn’t be confused with gluten sensitivity, as the consequences really can be severe.
Coeliac disease affects around one in 100 people in the UK, with research suggesting that as many as 500,000 people are living with the illness undiagnosed.
With the advent of this new vaccine, however, people could well look forward to eating foods made from wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Lead researcher and gastroenterologist Dr Jason Tye-Din, from WEHI and Royal Melbourne Hospital told The Herald Sun the vaccine targets gluten-specific cells – teaching the body how to handle gluten more effectively.
“If you can give [the vaccine] in successive injections, you can retrain the immune system, so it learns to develop a tolerance,” Dr Tye-Din said.
He said it could lead to a huge improvement in life quality for thousands of people, as even a few crumbs of gluten can be harmful over time – leading to things like infertility, type 1 diabetes and osteoporosis.
The next stage of development involves recruiting 150 patients from across Oz, New Zealand and the US to trial the injections.
Everyone will receive either the active injection or a placebo while undergoing three food challenges, which will test how effective the vaccine is in quashing symptoms.