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New research targets digestive disease.

Discovery of a molecule that triggers celiac sprue--an inflammation of the intestine that results from eating wheat and related grains--may lead to a simple and effective treatment for the disease.

Chaitan Khosla and his colleagues at Stanford University and the University of Norway in Oslo report identifying a single component of gluten proteins that causes the autoimmune response characteristic of celiac sprue. Immersing the protein molecule in digestive enzymes derived from bacteria broke the amino-acid chain into apparently harmless components.

The study presents "a combined chemical-physiological-immunological answer to the question 'Why is gluten toxic to a person with celiac sprue?'" said Dr. Khosla. "If proven correct, the findings will lead to new insights into the causes of celiac sprue and perhaps certain other types of autoimmune diseases."

In most people, the protein molecules probably work their way down to the lower intestine, where they are eaten by microorganisms.

"But in people with celiac sprue, the stable 33 amino acid peptide causes big problems because the molecule is recognized as being a threat to the person's immune system," said Dr. Khosla, who began researching the disease when his family was faced with the illness.

If human studies are successful, the bacterial enzymes may result in a simple, oral supplement that can eliminate the harmful effects of gluten--similar to enzyme supplements taken orally by people who cannot digest lactose, a sugar found in milk.

As many as one in every 200 Americans suffers from celiac sprue. Presently, the only treatment is to completely avoid gluten, a substance found primarily in wheat, rye and barley and ubiquitous in today's processed foods, spice mixes, and flavorings.
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Author:SerVaas, Cory
Publication:Medical Update
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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