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An experimental shot could cure intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and the main cause of coeliac disease, according to a British media report. Although bread is the main source, gluten is also found in everything from pasta, cakes and biscuits to fish fingers, sausages and even stock cubes. There is no treatment for coeliac disease and sufferers are at increased risk of osteoporosis, infertility and bowel cancer if they do not stick to a gluten-free diet.
Harmful proteins in gluten damage the small finger-like projections, called villi, lining the small intestine and help to stimulate digestion. When damaged and inflamed, the villi are unable to absorb food properly, causing diarrhoea and malnutrition, the Daily Mail reports. Starved of vitamins and minerals from the diet, bones start to weaken, raising the risk of osteoporosis. Studies show the risk of bowel cancer also doubles, possibly because the body fails to absorb dietary fibre, which can help to protect against it.
But the experimental vaccine, which is about to go into human trials after being successfully tested in the lab, could be a major breakthrough. Named NexVax2, it works by 'reprogramming' the body's immune system so that it does not attack the gut in response to gluten in the diet. The US firm behind the coeliac vaccine, called Immusant Inc, says it hopes sufferers will eventually be able to eat bread as part of their diet. The new shot is expected to lower immune response to gluten. Some live with the condition for up to 13 years before it is finally identified.
Within hours of eating any gluten-rich foods, they can have severe diarrhoea and vomiting that may last for several days. The disease is mostly genetic and up to 90 percent of those with the condition carry a specific gene, known as HLA-DQ2. The scientists developed this new vaccine after they identified which of the 3,000 protein fragments that make up gluten were causing damage in the body.
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