The old saying “one person’s bread is another’s poison” applies especially to coeliacs. These folk are allergic to gluten, a major component of wheat, rye and barley. If these kinds of ingredients are eaten, even in just a humble sandwich, serious digestive problems can result. This comes about as the body’s immune system attacks gluten in the digestive tract. In doing so it also damages its delicate lining which leads to problems absorbing nutrients. In extreme cases the damage to the digestive tract can be so extensive that a person can literally starve to death despite eating lots of food.
The standard treatment is a gluten free diet but for some this does not completely relieve symptoms, and others find this too difficult to stick to. Good news then that a vaccine to treat this chronic auto-immune condition is underway. Vaccines usually introduce a pathogen which the body responds to by producing antibodies. In the case of coeliacs they already produce antibodies against gluten which leads to the condition’s debilitating digestive inflammation. Research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Victoria instead proposes a vaccine which aims to train the body to change its recognition of gluten proteins from threat to non-threat. If this can be achieved then people should be able to tolerate gluten – and bread – again.
A company was formed specifically for the task of developing the vaccine called Nexvax2®. ImmusanT has announced positive results from their Stage 1 safety trials and have commenced recruiting for Stage 2 trials to determine the vaccine’s clinical effectiveness. Efforts focus on participants with a gene called HLA-DQ2 which is commonly found in coeliacs.
In the meantime more collaborative research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute continues into new coeliac diagnostics and therapeutics. One recent break through is understanding why some coeliacs also find oats toxic. This was found to arise from an immune response to proteins called avenins which are similar to gluten. This research was supported by Coeliac Australia, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, BTG International plc, ImmusanT Inc. and the Victorian Government.
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