New Treatment for Celiac Disease?
Research Shows Blocking a Protein May Reverse Celiac Disease Symptoms
More Celiac Treatments Needed
“In the U.S., we need to increase awareness and diagnosis of celiac disease because less than 10% of patients are diagnosed,” she says. “A gluten-free diet is currently the treatment of choice, but some patients only respond partially, and it is still socially a handicap."
The race is on to develop new therapies to treat or prevent celiac disease, she says.
“At this point, the new study holds theoretic promise,” says Gerard Mullin, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the director of Integrative Nutrition Services at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.“IL-15 may be a major player in driving the inflammatory response in celiac disease, and if we block it, you can tolerate gluten.
“A drug that blocks IL-15 may be most beneficial in people with really aggressive disease that doesn’t respond to conventional dietary measures,” Mullin says. For people with celiac disease, “today’s day and age is better to live in than 10 years ago due to increased availability of gluten-free foods and gluten-free menu options."
Celiac disease is on the rise in the U.S., he says.
“The prevalence has jumped four to five times since the 1940s, but we are not clear why,” Mullin says. “Many food experts have speculated that it is the way grains are processed here, but we do see it in Italy and other places.”
Diagnosing celiac disease is not always straightforward, he says. Blood tests that look for the presence of certain antibodies are the first step. If the results are positive, many doctors will order a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. This biopsy can also help assess the degree of damage, but “even the biopsy can miss it,” he says.
Richard Desi, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Melissa L. Posner Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says that blocking IL-15 may well help some people with celiac disease.
“This may not be it for everybody, but maybe it can help some people,” he says. “We are starting to understand celiac disease a lot more and diagnose it a lot more. The hope is that we will be able to come up with a treatment that doesn’t just involve a gluten-free diet."