We reported last week on a group of European scientists that are jointly developing a biosensor for the detection of gluten in food in order to help sufferers of coeliac disease - currently affecting some 1 million Europeans. Today we provide an update on the study.
The goal of the project is to manufacture a disposable microsystem with integrated modules for a standardised extraction and analysis of gluten in food samples.
Coeliac disease is caused by a permanent intolerance to the wheat gluten proteins, and related proteins, in barley and rye. If a susceptible person eats foods that contain these proteins, abnormalities arise in the small intestine, culminating in a flat intestinal mucosa and producing a variety of symptoms, typically including malnutrition, diarrhoea and anaemia.
The scientists involved in project QLK1-2000-00657, co-ordinated by Prof. Dr Ludvig Sollid at the University of Oslo, write this week that there is strong evidence that coeliac disease is a T-cell mediated immune disease. The partners in this project have recently characterised some of the gluten-derived peptides (protein 'building blocks') that are recognised by T-cells and which are likely to be involved directly in the disease process. Gluten is widely used in the food industry and also in pharmaceutical products. The manufacture of acceptable gluten products would, therefore, be of great value for patients who have to remain on a gluten-free diet for life, claim the scientists this week.
Current methods to screen for the presence of gluten rely on the crude measurement of the nitrogen content of starch preparations, or on ELISA-based techniques (enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay, which is a specific analytical technique, generally screening for one, or a mix of gluten proteins) - these methods, highlights the study, do not necessarily relate to the presence of toxic gluten components.
According to a statement released this week the scientists involved in the above project will use new knowledge on the identification of gluten peptides to develop reliable methods to detect the presence of these peptides in food products. They also hope to provide a foundation for initiating human clinical trials investigating new methods to treat coeliac disease.