Specially designed drugs called monoclonal antibodies may help prevent development of celiac disease, according to new research. Photo by ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock
Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Antibody therapy may help prevent the development of celiac disease, the digestive disorder that limits the body's ability to process foods that contain wheat, barley and rye, a study published Friday by Science Immunology found.
The approach uses specially modified monoclonal, or laboratory-created, antibodies that prevent the human immune system from recognizing gluten, a protein found in these foods, as a toxin, the researchers said.
This means that T cells, which, like antibodies, are cells created by the immune system to fight off invading diseases or toxins, will not respond to gluten and allow the body to digest or process it, according to the researchers.
Using this approach, the researchers were able to prevent the development of celiac disease in mice, though the therapy still needs to be tested in humans, they said.
"What we show is that a highly successful and well-recognized drug class, namely monoclonal antibodies also may find its place in the growing therapeutic toolbox under investigation in celiac disease," study co-author Geir Åge Løset told UPI in an email.
"Our findings point to a drug development path that ultimately may blunt the unwanted immune reaction seen in celiac patients, thereby allowing these patients to adopt a more normal way of living," said Løset, founder and CEO of Nextera, the Oslo-based firm that makes the monoclonal antibody for celiac.
Monoclonal antibodies are essentially laboratory-created immune cells that bolsters the body's defenses against infections and other toxins, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
These drugs, which are tailored specifically to the target virus or toxin, are commonly used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis, and most recently have been explored as a potential treatment option for COVID-19.
Celiac disease, which sometimes is called gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is caused by an immune reaction to eating gluten, according to the Celiac Foundation.
In those with the disorder, eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine, resulting in damaging inflammation to its lining that may increase a person's risk for malnutrition and intestinal cancers, among other complications, the foundation says.
The most common symptoms of celiac disease are diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, anemia and osteoporosis, or bone weakening.
About 1% of people in the United States have the disorder, the foundation estimates, and there is no cure.
Those with celiac disease can only manage their symptoms by modifying their diets to avoid foods containing gluten, which can make dining out challenging, given that the ingredient is common, according to the foundation.
For this study, Løset and his colleagues screened a human antibody library for antibodies that block immune cells that target gluten.
Using this information, they developed monoclonal antibodies that mimic this process, the researchers said.
When exposed to inflamed gut tissue samples from patients with celiac disease, the antibody blocked the immune response to gluten and did the same in lab mice, without compromising any other important immune cell functions, according to the researchers.
There is a "necessity for better treatment options to improve quality of life for the growing celiac patient population," Løset said.
"We think our study points to an untapped potential which allows a clear path for drug makers to act upon building on well-recognized principles," he said.