Since starting Custom Choice Cereal for a gluten-intolerant friend in 2009 there has rarely been a day where I didn't learn something new about celiac disease. However, I am again and again amazed by how little is known about the triggers for celiac disease and why exactly it is on the rise, as research by Dr. Alessio Fasano from the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research indicates.
I also like to stress that unlike many other conditions, a strict adherence to a gluten-free diet is an (the only!) effective treatment for the autoimmune disease. While that sounds stressful and can initially be overwhelming we like to look at the bright side of things: absolutely no medication is needed!
Researchers from the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center used mice to identify a biochemical interaction that may trigger an autoimmune reaction in the intestines of genetically susceptible people. Specifically, they found that the compound retinoic acid in combination with high levels of the a pro-inflammatory substance known as interleukin-15 was able to break the body's tolerance to gluten.
Study author Dr. Bana Jabri and her colleagues examined the records of patients at University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center, which showed that many of them had high levels of IL-15 in their intestines. Then they conducted experiments using a new mouse model of the disease developed in Jabri's lab. When the researchers increased levels of IL-15 in mice, the animals developed all the early symptoms of celiac disease. Adding retinoic acid only worsened the disease. But when the researchers blocked IL-15 in the mice, their symptoms improved and they could tolerate gluten again.
Dr. Bana said that "This is the first time that we actually show how inducing a specific dysregulation in the intestines can lead to losing tolerance to a food antigen, and in particular to gluten." She continued that this represents a key finding because they now know what to target for a re-introduction of tolerance to gluten.
Dr. Fasano added that he was really intrigued by the new discoveries about the role of retinoic acid, "which we've always thought helped to prevent the immune response rather than make it worse. It's a most provocative finding."
While these are promising and important research discoveries in the understanding of celiac disease, much more research is needed. It also needs to be noted that promising research done with animals often fails to produce beneficial results for humans.
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