Since celiac disease was first observed in the second century, there’s been no cure for the autoimmune condition—and no treatment beyond avoiding gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
That may be changing. A study conducted at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine tested a treatment involving injection of a nanoparticle into the bloodstream of celiac patients. A week after the treatment, participants ate gluten for 14 days and then were tested for inflammation markers. The inflammatory response dropped 90 percent, compared with celiac sufferers who did not receive treatment, says head researcher Steve Miller, Ph.D., professor of microbiology-immunology at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
The key to the treatment is filling the nanoparticle with gliadin, gluten’s primary protein, and then introducing it—via the bloodstream—to certain cells in the liver and spleen that communicate with the immune system. The nanoparticle shell hides the gliadin, tricking the immune system into accepting it and squelching the usual immune response to the substance, Miller says.
What’s more, Miller adds, the same treatment has worked in mice to fight other autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS) and even peanut allergies.
More studies need to be done to determine how long the treatment lasts in humans, but in mice, one or two injections have been shown to last for the lifetime of the mouse—about two years—Miller says.