BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 27 September, 2002, 23:49 GMT 00:49 UK
Cause of dietary disorder uncovered
People with coeliac disease have to avoid certain foods
People with coeliac disease have to avoid certain foods
Scientists have discovered what causes people to develop the life-long intestinal disorder coeliac disease.

They say their finding could even lead to a cure.

Coeliac disease sufferers have an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, and similar proteins in rye, barley and oats.

Around three in 1,000 people in the UK are thought to be affected.

The only way to manage the condition is to eat a gluten-free diet.


These findings are the first step to giving people with coeliac disease real hope for a normal life

Chaitan Khosla
Stanford University
The culprit was discovered to be a specific fragment of gluten.

The team also discovered that a dietary enzyme made by a bacterium can break down the fragment into harmless bits.

They say this could be the basis of a future treatment of dietary supplements for coeliac patients.

Pipe-like

In a healthy gut, the lining of the small intestine is carpet-like and covered in small protrusions called villi.

But in patients with coeliac disease, the lining is smooth and pipe-like.

The means that there is less surface area to absorb the nutrients the body needs.

Coeliac disease is often diagnosed in childhood, and can be characterised by a distended stomach and stunted growth.

It is treatable, but can lead to serious long-term complications, such as the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, infertility and cancer of the small intestine.

Researchers from Stanford University in California, USA and the University of Oslo in Norway have discovered that a fragment of gluten called gliadin is responsible for inflaming the gut.

They found gliadin cannot be digested, and causes the inflammatory response which damages the intestine.

Attack

In laboratory tests, the researchers mimicked the digestive process.

They exposed gliadin to digestive enzymes in test tubes and were able to identify a protein fragment made up of 33 amino acids that was resistant to further digestion and whose structure was known to be toxic.

Most proteins are broken down into small peptides of between two and six amino acids or into single amino acids.

The tests were repeated on rats, and again in test tubes using tissue taken by biopsy from patients undergoing unrelated medical procedures.

Further research into gliadin found it was made up of even smaller fragments already known to provoke cells in the body to attack the intestine.

The fragment is also rich in an amino acid called proline.

Researchers reasoned that an enzyme that breaks down proteins, which had the ability to digest proline-rich chains might be able to break down the gliadin fragment, making it harmless.

Laboratory and animal tests have shown that the enzyme can break down the fragment.

But they stress tests in humans are some way off.

'Good news'

Chaitan Khosla, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Stanford, who worked on the research, said: "These findings are the first step to giving people with coeliac disease real hope for a normal life."

Dr Gary Gray, emeritus professor of medicine at the university, who also worked on the study, added: "The only effective therapy for most people is a lifelong gluten-free diet, and that's fairly restrictive."

A spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation told BBC News Online: "It would certainly be good news for people with coeliac disease.

"But we have come a long way. And there are now a far better range of gluten-free foods available."

The research is published in the journal Science.

See also:

16 Mar 02 | Health
18 Nov 99 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes