Nearly 1% of the population is celiac, i.e. they suffer from intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. The problem obliges sufferers to follow a diet based on natural foodstuffs such as legumes, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit and rice.
Gluten, in sufferers, produces atrophy of the villi of the intestinal lining, and thus there is insufficient absorption of nutrients. Moreover celiac disease is a pathology that has no known cure, specialists pointing out it can be controlled following a specific diet.
Many research projects have been carried out worldwide on this pathology. Two of these, undertaken at the Cruces hospital in Bilbao, have received awards from the European Society of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at its second World Congress held recently in Paris. The award-winners are the young researchers Lourdes Ortiz and Ainhoa Martín-Pagola.
The genes hold the secret
Gluten rejection is genetic. One in seven patients show symptoms such as chronic diarrhoea and malnutrition but the other six do not have symptoms or, if they do, they are atypical and are not diagnosed. They can, moreover, have other complications, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, growth retardation and cancer of the digestive system.
There are a number of genes known to be involved in the disease, all related to immune response. But there are more related genes, given that some patients show certain related genes but not the pathology and viceversa. It is precisely these other genes that are being studied at the Cruces Hospital, where one of them – the MIC-A -has been identified. This gene is found near the region where the previously identified genes are found but now its role in the diseases and which part of the auto-immune process is involved is under investigation. Moreover, the hospital has made contact with a company to develop a microchip that can study 30,000 genes at a time, instead of one at a time – an advance that will be of great help in the research.
Garazi Andonegi | Basque research
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