Coeliac disease found to cause ‘immunological scarring’

Pictured: Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people. Source: Wikimedia Commons

By Holly Giles

Coeliac disease is a common digestive condition affecting 1% of the population. These people have an adverse reaction to gluten from the immune system mistaking gluten as a threat to the body and attacking it. This causes damage to the surface of the small intestines and disrupts the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. However, the effects of this condition may be more severe than previously thought, with researchers this week concluding that the immune cells in the bowels of sufferers are permanently replaced by new cells which promote inflammation.

This immunological scarring encourages the disease to progress by making the bowels more prone to inflammation and could be a contributing factor to other chronic intestinal disorders which are common in coeliac sufferers.

This new research comes from a collaboration of researchers from the University of Chicago, Cardiff University, Monash University, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, Leiden University, University of Groningen, and Columbia University.

From the School of Medicine at Cardiff University, Dr James McLaren, said: “In coeliac disease, T cells found in the bowel react to gluten and cause inflammation, which damages the lining of the bowel. Under normal circumstances, T cells have a protective role in the bowel and form a stable population. However, in celiac disease, they contribute to the inflammatory process, causing short-term symptoms and increasing the risk of developing certain types of bowel cancer. Our new study suggests that even though short-term symptoms, such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain, can be alleviated by removing gluten from the diet, long-term implications may remain, because ‘tissue-healing’ T cells in the bowel are permanently replaced by ‘pro-inflammatory’ T cells.”

Currently, the main line of treatment is for sufferers to adopt a gluten-free diet for life and to take supplements for the first year of diagnosis. However, as stated by Dr James McLaren, this treatment may not be sufficient in combatting the long-term implications of the disease. This is the focus for the research team who aim to find more information on the immunological scarring and “pro-inflammatory T cells”. This knowledge will help inform treatment options and look into targeting the cells; this could drastically increase the quality of life for coeliac sufferers and minimise their associated health complications.

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