Gluten, the simple wheat protein found in a vast number of processed food products, causes a serious reaction in a small percentage of people who consume it. At this point in time, celiac disease — the name for the autoimmune condition triggered by gluten — is diagnosed by looking for certain antibodies and via an invasive procedure that takes a biopsy of the small intestines.
Celiac disease is a serious condition that is too often overlooked until it causes other health problems, including vitamin deficiencies and eventual nerve damage. The solution to celiac disease is eliminating gluten from one’s diet, but this can’t be done until after a blood test has been performed to look for antibodies associated with the disease.
This is a problem for sufferers who may have already eliminated gluten from their diet out of suspicion of celiac disease — in order for the blood test to work, the patient must start eating gluten again, leading to an autoimmune response that produces antibodies.
In many cases, the patient must eat gluten for weeks or months before the test is accurate. Because this process triggers an autoimmune response, it leads to the return of symptoms that take weeks to subside after gluten is once again eliminated from the diet.
In addition, celiac disease is diagnosed by using an endoscopy to biopsy the small intestines. This process is highly invasive and involves having a camera on a long tube inserted down through the patient’s throat. As a result, many suspected celiac sufferers choose to skip the biopsy altogether.
Researchers with the Walter + Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research have published a study revealing a potential future alternative: a simple blood test that can diagnose celiac disease in patients after they consume a single meal that contains gluten. This is made possible by looking for ‘distinct markers’ that were identified in the blood of celiac disease patients.
The Institute’s head of celiac research Associate Professor Jason Tye-Din said:
For the many people following a gluten-free diet without a formal diagnosis of coeliac disease, all that might be required is a blood test before, and four hours after, a small meal of gluten. This would be a dramatic improvement on the current approach, which requires people to actively consume gluten for at least several weeks before undergoing an invasive procedure to sample the small intestine.
Scientists are now working on the potential development of a blood test that looks for these ‘distinct markers,’ potentially revolutionizing the way celiac sufferers are diagnosed.