British scientists have identified new genetic links to celiac disease.
According to the researchers, these latest findings could speed the way towards improved diagnostics and treatments for the autoimmune complaint disease, triggered by an intolerance to gluten (a protein found in foods containing wheat, barley and rye) that prevents normal absorption of nutrients.
If undetected it can lead to severe health problems including anemia, poor bone health, fatigue and weight loss.
David van Heel, Professor of Gastrointestinal Genetics at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry led an international team of researchers to identify four aspects of immune system disturbance, which lead to the development of the disease.
Nearly 40 different inherited risk factors, which predispose to the disease have been identified.
"We can now shed light on some of the precise immune disturbances leading to celiac disease. These include how T cells in the body react to toxic wheat proteins, how the thymus gland eliminates these T cells during infancy, and the body's response to viral infections," Professor van Heel said.
"We now understand that many of these genetic risk factors work by altering the amounts of these immune system genes that cells make.
"The data also suggests that celiac disease is made up of hundreds of genetic risk factors, we can have a good guess at nearly half of the genetic risk at present," van Heel added.
The study also shows that there is substantial evidence to indicate a shared risk between the gene associated with coeliac disease and many other common chronic immune mediated diseases.
The results of the study are published online in Nature Genetics.