University of Sheffield Connects Celiac & Neurological Risks while University of Helsinki Identifies Possible Cure

University of Sheffield Connects Celiac & Neurological Risks while University of Helsinki Identifies Possible Cure

An autoimmune disorder called celiac disease is triggered by exposure to gluten. With over 3 million sufferings in America alone, researchers work furiously on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to not only better understand the disease, but hopefully one day find a cure. Two universities in Europe recently reported on study results that offer new novel insights into the disease. In the United Kingdom, the University of Sheffield researchers suggest that those with celiac disease are at higher risk of suffering neurological damage. In Finland, University of Helsinki investigators conclude from a new study that a cure could be in reach and are discussing how nanoparticle treatments can induce immune tolerance.

TrialSite News breaks down both studies, recently covered thanks to NewAtlas.

What did the University of Sheffield research team conclude?

Although celiac is an autoimmune disorder associated with the intestines, there is a growing body of research associating the disorder with neurological issues—such as cognitive deficits and psychological problems like depression.

The team, to avoid “ascertainment bias”, leveraged the independent dataset from UK Biobank, a massive long-term health study tracking 500,000+ subjects in the UK. They utilized this data (inclusive of over 100 celiac disease subjects) and compared it to approximately 200 subjects (age-matched control group). The team studied the data derived from mental health and cognitive tests in addition to MRI brain scan analyses.

The Sheffield-based group suggests that there does appear to be a risk of neurological damage associated with people living with celiac disease, reports Dr. Iain Croall. He notes, “Our independent UK Biobank participants with CD showed meaningful neurological and psychological deficits when compared with control participants. The data from the celiac disease group of participants showed a significant reaction time deficit compared to the control participants, alongside signs of anxiety, health-related unhappiness, and depression.”

The University of Helsinki Breakthrough?

Meanwhile, up in Finland, a team from the University of Helsinki sought to address ways to ultimately combat the autoimmune disorder. In Finland, about 2% of the total population (5.52 million) are afflicted. Led by immunologist Tobias Freitag, co-developed and tested nanoparticles containing gliadin for the immunomodulatory treatment of celiac disease in Professor Seppo Meri’s Translational Immunology Research Program at University of Helsinki, in collaboration with industry.

While no one knows why some people develop celiac disease, about 30-40% of the population is at risk of developing the condition, based on identified genetic predisposition. This predisposition can lead to loss of immune tolerance of gliadin during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. The University of Helsinki reported that their scientists developed and tested nanoparticles containing gliadin for the immunomodulatory treatment of celiac disease. While conducting preclinical studies in mice, they found that the nanoparticles (TIMP-GLIA) significantly reduced markers of gliadin-specific T cell activation, inflammation, and tissue damage. The findings support the concept that it could potentially be feasible to “reprogram” the immune system in celiac patients and to instruct T lymphocytes to tolerate gluten once again.

The University of Helsinki notes that this approach, if leading to clinical unresponsiveness to gluten-containing diet in trials with celiac patients, TIMP-GLIA treatment could lead to the cure of celiac disease. This would mean that patients who couldn’t eat wheat and other normally banned substances could once again eat normally. The results of this study were published in the scientific journal Gastroenterology.

Lead Research/Investigators

University of Sheffield Study

Dr. Iain Croall 

University of Helsinki Study

Tobias Freitag, Postdoctoral Researcher

Seppo Meri, Professor