House CallApr/May 2009 Issue

Research Roundup: Got Gluten?

Quick! Got Gluten?
There may be good news on the horizon for people following a gluten-free diet. Researchers have developed a quicker way to suss out gluten, the protein present in wheat, barley and rye. Going gluten free is the only way to treat celiac disease yet sticking to the diet is challenging since the protein is present, though not always labeled, in many processed foods, personal care products and restaurant meals.

The new test, developed by researchers in Spain and the United Kingdom and reported in Analytical Chemistry, senses antibodies to the protein gliadin, a gluten component. The test takes only 90 minutes, a significant improvement over the eight hours required by currently available methods.

In the future, food manufacturers could use the test to more quickly identify foods containing gluten before shipping them to the supermarket, thereby making products safer for those with gluten sensitivity.

Diabetes and Celiac Disease
Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, two autoimmune disorders that occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissue, share a common genetic origin, report researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Microscopic examination of tissue samples from 8,000 people with type 1 diabetes and 2,500 people with celiac disease revealed that the diseases share seven chromosomal regions, called loci. It’s these spots, the authors say, that regulate the body's destructive immune response in the pancreas (which leads to diabetes) and in the small intestine (which causes celiac disease). The overlapping chromosomal regions not only link the disorders genetically, but both disorders may be similarly triggered by environmental factors. The study highlights areas for further inquiry to better understand how genetics and environmental factors lead to these diseases.

More Rain,  
More Autism

Researchers from Cornell University have found higher rates of autism in areas that receive more rainfall. When investigators looked at autism diagnosed between 1987 and 1999 in Washington, California and Oregon, they discovered that rates climbed higher in counties receiving more precipitation during that time.

Although researchers don’t believe rain directly triggers autism, it’s likely linked to some environmental factor that, in genetically susceptible children, leads to developing the condition. Perhaps inclement weather leads children to spend more time indoors, where they’re exposed to toxic household chemicals or where they produce less vitamin D from lack of sunlight. The investigators put forth several possibilities, and the work suggests new avenues of research are needed to explore the interplay of genetics and environmental factors in autism. The study was published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Less Pain, More Gain
Treating grass pollen allergy by injecting allergens directly into the lymphatic system, rather than the skin, proved just as effective and caused less pain to patients, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fifty-eight adults allergic to grass pollen received three immunotherapy injections directly to the lymph nodes over an 8-week period. Researchers in Switzerland compared their responses to 54 patients receiving standard immunotherapy skin injections (54 injections over 36 months). Over the next three years, the patients receiving the lymph node injections reported symptom control similar to those who got traditional immunotherapy. But those who got the lymph node injections found it easier to follow the injection schedule, had fewer adverse reactions and reported less pain.

Many patients don’t follow through with standard immunotherapy because of the number and duration of injections. Lymph node injections may potentially up the number of patients who complete treatment and get help for their hay fever.  LW

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