Is a celiac vaccine a real possibility?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to hear two prominent and internationally recognised speakers share their specialist knowledge and the latest information about celiac disease - Dr Jason Tye-Din and Dr Sue Shepherd.

Hosted by Coeliac Queensland, the event started with Dr Jason Tye-Din, a gastroenterologist and celiac specialist, who has contributed to the development of the exciting new celiac vaccine.

This an extremely exciting prospect for all celiac sufferers out there who have this autoimmune disorder which is triggered by eating foods made from wheat, barley or rye. Currently, the only treatment is a life-long, gluten-free diet - which trust me, sounds a whole lot easier than it is in practice!

Since the 'discovery' of gluten in the 1950s, the work being undertaken by Dr Tye-Din and Dr Bob Anderson at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia, might be the most promising to date. The good doctors have conducted over a decade of tests on more than 300 patients with celiac disease and have found that three 'toxic peptides' (key fragments of gluten)are caused by the abnormal autoimmune response in people carrying the common celiac-associated gene. It is these three peptides, out of the 18,000 in gluten, that seem to be the problem.

The solution? Creating a vaccine which would inject celiac sufferers regularly with tiny quantities of the three peptides. The doctors believe this would induce an autoimmune tolerance, allowing patients to resume a 'normal' diet.

The vaccine is now being developed by Boston-based company ImmusanT (where Dr Anderson has taken up post as chief scientist) and is known as NexVax2. The good news - it could be just five years before this vaccine is commercially available. So in answer to the question: is a celiac vaccine a real possibility? The answer is an emphatic YES!

Stay tuned for Part 2 - a summary of Dr. Sue Shepherd's speech, which tackles issues like 'how nutritious is the gluten-free diet?' and 'is there a relationship between the severity of symptoms and the severity of biopsy results?'

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