A few molecules in the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye could be the “troublemakers” — the ones causing damage — to the guts of celiac patients.  Now researchers hope to use this discovery to create a vaccine!

Research published this week in Science Translational Medicine found there are three key peptides (smaller molecules) in the gluten protein that are particularly disruptive to the system of someone with celiac disease.  By finding these peptides, scientists hope it will lead them to a vaccine for celiac disease.  The vaccine would allow celiacs to eat anything– gluten-free or not.

A story by US News & World Report Thursday, explained how researchers made the discovery:

“First they gave more than 200 celiac patients in Australia and Britain wheat, barley and rye in foods for three days. This mobilized immune T cells to mount an attack on gluten. The researchers used these T cells to measure the patients’ immune reactions to 2,700 compounds found in gluten. Using the new scanning technology [to sort out the more troublesome peptides and] to narrow the field, they found that while dozens of peptides elicited some immune response, three stood apart from the rest. One appears in a type of wheat gluten. Another is found in rye gluten. And a third peptide shows up on certain gluten proteins in all three cereals.” — US News and World Report

So now what?  A layman like me wonders how all of the gluten protein isn’t bad??  Now researchers hope to work on a vaccine. EWorldPost.com described it this way:

“What these experts aim is to introduce, instead of a virus (as other vaccines such as influenza, for example), these three pieces of gluten, to make the body not identified as toxic and, therefore, the patient with celiac disease can tolerate all foods with or without gluten.” –www.eworldpost.com

US News & World Report described it slightly differently, but says the same thing:

“The Australian team has begun an early-stage clinical trial using these peptides in a vaccine that aims to desensitize celiac patients and make them tolerant of the compounds.”

However you describe it, I don’t really understand how giving gluten in a vaccine to someone with celiac will keep them from having a reaction to it.  I do have a friend who once was involved in a study that was similar regarding peanut allergies — so I know this is done — but is it a realistic possibility?

USNW said the researchers expect to have preliminary safety results in later this year.  It will be interesting to watch this one develop!

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