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New Treatment Could Give Hope to Celiac Patients

[Article from News Channel 6 ABC]

"Imagine your body attacking itself because you had wheat toast for breakfast. That’s what happens in celiac disease…and a strict diet has been the only way to keep it at bay. Now, a promising new treatment could give patients new hope and a new appetite…"

By Randy Key

Published: June 3, 2009

UNDATED—For Jax Peters Lowell, celiac disease is one for the books. She’s written several on the topic, having had an undiagnosed case of the autoimmune disease for years.

Jax Peters Lowell, celiac patient: “Before I was given the gluten-free diet, I just got thinner and thinner and sicker and sicker.“

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. In celiac patients, it wreaks havoc in the digestive tract.

Anthony DiMarino, M.D., gastroenterologist: “When it’s ingested, it sets up a chemical reaction which releases cytokines or chemicals which injure the intestine.“

Symptoms include stomach cramping, pain, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss. Untreated, there are long-term complications like osteoporosis, anemia and other autoimmune disorders like lupus.

Dr. DiMarino: “A gluten-free diet is the only accepted treatment, right now.“

But, what if you could take a pill before a meal to block gluten, and eat anything you want? That’s the idea behind a new experimental drug.

Alessio Fasano, M.D., Mucosa Biologist: “The ultimate goal is to go back to a regular life. To eat whatever you want, whenever you want. How feasible this will be with this kind of treatment? Only time will tell.“

The drug inhibits zonulin, a protein that regulates the absorption of nutrients. Its job is to open and close spaces between tightly-packed cells that line the small intestine, letting vital nutrients in, and keeping destructive proteins, like gluten, out. Too much zonulin…and the space gets jammed open.

Dr. DiMarino: “What you have is a gap in the cells and then things can get through that otherwise would not get through.“

Including gluten, Doctor DiMarino is heading a study on the new drug called AT-1001. He says, so far, the pill seems to keep those spaces between cells closed so gluten can’t get in.

Dr. DiMarino: “It seems to be blocking the things you want it to block. Patients seem to be able to tolerate the gluten with minimal or no side effects.“

Jax took part in the study and is encouraged by the news.

Jax: “To have maybe the pill in my purse and instructions as to how many hours you have to take it ahead of time and have some pizza. Just grab a slice just like anybody else.“

It doesn’t mean the end of a gluten-free diet, but it could allow for an occasional splurge.

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