Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease, announces it has granted funding for three medical projects totaling £300,000 over three years.
1 in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease caused by intolerence to gluten but only 1 in 8 or 12.5% of those have been diagnosed. There is no cure and no medication for coeliac disease and the only treatment is a life-long, strict gluten-free diet. Without a gluten-free diet, coeliac disease can lead to infertility, multiple miscarriage, osteoporosis, neurological deficits and bowel cancer.
The Charity is funding three new research projects to aid in the diagnosis of the condition which are:
1) £143,000 into genetic research led by Professor David van Heel of Queen Mary College, London which builds on earlier work to identify the genetic basis of coeliac disease. In his previous work Professor van Heel and his team identified 13 new gene variants which appeared to be associated with coeliac disease, many of which are linked to the way the immune system works. In this latest study, new genetic techniques will be used to identify those genes most likely to cause coeliac disease rather than those simply associated with the condition. 8,000 coeliac patient genetic samples will be analysed and compared with those from 8,000 people without the condition.
2) £143,00 granted to a team led by Professor Daniel Aeschlimann from Cardiff and joined by Dr Marios Hadjivassiliou, Professor David Sanders and Nigel Hoggard from Sheffield, to undertake new research into the neurological manifestations of gluten sensitivity. The research will use new biomarkers (transglutaminase 6 auto antibodies) in the blood to identify those patients presenting with neurological symptoms but lack the classical bowel symptoms more reliably and earlier in the disease process. The work will also establish whether the new test can identify those patients with coeliac disease who present to gastroenterologists that are at risk of developing neurological problems. A sensitive brain imaging technique called Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy will be employed to identify patients who already have brain abnormalities at diagnosis of coeliac disease. Further molecular work endeavours to explain the events leading to the production of this new biomarker and therefore to provide an insight into why symptoms can be vastly different between individual patients.
3) £14,000 to Professor David Sanders and his team at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital to focus on changing the clinical approach of diagnosing coeliac disease in patients who have non specific gut symptoms. They propose taking a simple and quick blood test for coeliac disease in a sample group of patients attending the hospital for an endoscopy appointment but for whom coeliac disease hadn't currently been suspected. Using the 'pin prick' test currently sold in the UK as Biocard, the test will provide instant results. The grant has been match funded by funding from the Biocard company.
Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK said: "We currently estimate that there are around half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed coeliac disease and it is essential that research is undertaken to improve diagnosis results. With an average diagnosis period of 13 years, many people have to endure many years of symptoms which may also impact on NHS resources due to repeat visits to the GP and unnecessary courses of action due to misdiagnosis."
"As a charity committed to research we hope that the findings of these three projects will enable swifter diagnosis and enable more people to benefit from an improved quality of life."
The symptoms of coeliac disease range from being mild to severe and can vary between individuals. Symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, wind, tiredness, anaemia, headaches, mouth ulcers, weight loss - but not in all cases, skin problems, joint or bone pain as well as nerve problems (headaches, depression, loss of balance).
Contributed by: Kate Newman