Can you imagine never eating bread, pasta, pizza or any other delicious, gluten-y goodness for the rest of your life? And when we say ‘rest of your life’ we’re not referring to “I’m avoiding carbs until next Friday so my stomach looks flat at this event”. We mean literally not touching gluten for the rest of your life, unless you want to experience severe cramps or constipation, break out in a rash or put yourself at risk of serious health issues. Not to mention, having to double and triple check every time you order something gluten-free from a cafe that it’s actually gluten-free. Yes, it sounds horrible, but it’s the daily reality for people who have coeliac disease—an incurable autoimmune illness triggered by consuming gluten.
The good news is, this may not be the case for too much longer. Thanks to a world first vaccine currently being trialled in Australia, gluten may soon be back on the table for people with coeliac disease. The vaccine, Nexvax2, was found to be safe for during the first phase of testing in Melbourne back in 2011. Now, the second phase of testing has begun at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Clinical Trials Centre in Melbourne, before being rolled out to Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Mackay and the Sunshine Coast.
It’s hoped that the Nexvax will allow the immune system’s abnormal toxic response to gluten to be reprogrammed in people with coeliac disease, preventing both short-term side effects and long-term health issues. “The vaccine is designed to target the 90 per cent of coeliac disease patients with the HLA-DQ2 genetic form of disease,” said Head of coeliac research and gastroenterologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Dr Jason Tye-Din. “A successful therapy that can restore normal gluten tolerance would revolutionise coeliac disease management.”
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The researchers are currently recruiting people with coeliac disease to take part in the second phase of the trial in the various locations around Australia. While it’s early days, the vaccine looks pretty promising if the results from the first phase of the trial are anything to go by. “The results from national and international Phase 1 trials showed that the therapy was safe and well tolerated even at the highest doses used, and also showed an intended biological effect on the immune system in patients with coeliac disease,” said Dr Tye-Din. “The Phase 2 trials build on the data from earlier studies and it is great that Australia is still playing a pivotal role in this work.”
According to Coeliac Australia, approximately one in 70 Australians have coeliac disease, but up to 80% of cases are undiagnosed. This is similar to the stats in the US, where 1% of Americans have coeliac, but 97% of cases are undiagnosed. Some of the symptoms of coeliac disease include digestive issues like abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, nausea or constipation, as well as bone and joint pain, fatigue and skin rashes. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your GP so they can screen for coeliac.