Major Breakthrough in the Treatment of Coeliac Disease by TCD Researchers

Posted on: 04 March 2008

Researchers in Trinity College Dublin in conjunction with collaborators in the UK and Netherlands have discovered seven gene regions linked to causing Coeliac disease. The groundbreaking discovery will lead to a better understanding of Coeliac disease and ultimately to the development of new treatments of the disease in the future. The findings by the TCD team of researchers, which was led by Dr Ross McManus of TCD’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, in collaboration with Professor David Van Heel of the London School of Medicine have just been published in the world leading journal, Nature Genetics.

Coeliac disease is a condition in which the intestine has an abnormal immune reaction to the wheat protein gluten and sufferers of the disease have to avoid all foodstuffs containing wheat, barley and rye flour. Europe, and in particular Ireland, has an extremely high incidence of the disease with up to one in every hundred people susceptible to developing the condition.

The team previously performed a genome wide association study in Coeliac disease, in which genetic markers across the genome were compared in Coeliac disease subjects versus healthy controls. In the report just published, 1,000 of the strongest genetic markers were assessed in a further 5,000 samples from candidates from Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands. The results identified seven new gene regions predisposing to Coeliac disease. Of particular importance is that the research found that four of these gene regions are also implicated in a predisposition to Type 1 Diabetes, (the type which occurs from birth), indicating that these discoveries may have broad implications for a range of inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.

Commenting on the significance of the research findings, TCD’s Dr McManus stated: “These findings underline the power of new genetic approaches using large groups of patients and controls to understand the mechanisms behind these types of common diseases. It is very interesting that they all point to the immune machinery and hopefully will throw some light on why these normal foodstuffs cause the misfiring of the immune system in Coeliac disease. The results will lead to a better understanding of the disease and may ultimately lead to new treatments for this and related conditions”.

Co-author of the paper, Head of the TCD School of Medicine Professor Dermot Kelleher, added: “This study illustrates the power that national and international collaboration brings to the study of common diseases in large populations. Ireland and TCD in particular has a strong tradition of Coeliac disease research and we are delighted that this tradition has been maintained in this ground-breaking study.”

The Irish research was funded by the Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board. Other contributions came from Hitachi Europe Limited, the Higher Education Authority and the Wellcome Trust.