A first of its kind vaccine for Australians living with coeliac disease could potentially bring an end restrictive gluten-free diets.
The Nexvax2 vaccine, which was developed by researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, aims to reprogram an abnormal immune system’s response to gluten.
Ordinarily, the small bowl is where 90 per cent of digestion occurs, but in people with coeliac disease, gluten foods damage the small bowel – preventing absorption.
Gastroenterologist Dr Jason Tye-Din (left) and Melinda Hardy (right) from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute are working towards eliminating gluten-free diets
Researchers of the vaccine are hopeful it will put an end to restrictive diets that prevent people from eating gluten foods, such as wheat, rye, barley and oats
This break in the digestive process occurs because the tiny finger-like cells in the gut that normally absorb food become inflamed, which means they can’t do their job.
As a result of poor absorption, a number of serious health consequences can result if the condition isn’t treated, including poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients.
According to Coeliac Australia, one in 70 Australians are affected by the condition – however, approximately 80 per cent of this number remain undiagnosed.
Researchers of the vaccine are hopeful it will put an end to restrictive diets that prevent people from eating gluten foods, such as 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.
He said it teaches the body how to handle gluten more efficiently so that it doesn’t go into ‘attack mode’ every time someone with coeliac eats a meal.
With coeliac disease, the lining of the gut – which is made up of finger-like projections called villi – becomes inflamed and flattened, which means they can’t absorb nutrients
Untreated coeliac disease can result in a range of serious consequences, including chronic systemic inflammation, poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients
‘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.
The researchers said if the vaccine proves successful it would be life-changing for the 160,000 people diagnosed with coeliac disease.
He said even just a few crumbs of gluten can be harmful over time, which can lead to issues such infertility, type 1 diabetes and osteoporosis.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is a serious immune condition caused by an intolerance to gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
When gluten is ingested by coeliacs, it causes an immune response in the gut that results in inflammation and damage to the small bowel.
The lining of the gut – which is made up of finger-like projections called villi – becomes inflamed and flattened, which means they can’t absorb nutrients.
If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a range of health problems, including nutrient deficiencies.
Ordinarily, treatment for the condition involves lifelong avoidance of foods that contain gluten, which leads to improves gut health and digestion.
* Coeliac Australia
‘If the trial is positive, it would suggest that having a normal diet is something people can aim for. That’s the ultimate hope,’ he said.
In order to take the vaccine to the next stage, Dr Tye-Din is recruiting almost 150 patients from across Australia, New Zealand and the US to trial the injections.
All of the participants will either receive the active injection or a placebo while undergoing three food challenges, which test the vaccine for its symptomatic relief.
Coeliac Australia president Michael Bell has welcomed the trial, saying the holy grail is finding a treatment that allowed coeliacs to return to a normal healthy diet.
When gluten is ingested by coeliacs, it causes an immune response in the gut that results in inflammation and damage to the small bowel