For years, the Maryland Celiac Center has played an integral role in celiac research and raising awareness about celiac disease (CD). Not only have they spearheaded the largest epidemiology study ever performed in the US, but their findings have given us more accurate data about the prevalence of CD. Instead of the previous belief that only 1 out of 10,000 people have CD, we now know the incidence is closer to 1 out of 133. They have also developed a new diagnostic test, which is now used nationwide for diagnosing CD.
These advances surrounding the prevalence of CD and useful diagnostic techniques have helped bring the disease into the limelight, helping reduce the amount of cases that go undiagnosed and untreated. And they have not stopped there. Three recent studies spearheaded by the center have further asserted their role as a leader in celiac research. Let's take a closer look at what they've uncovered:
- When center researchers examined the timing of gluten introduction to infants – and whether or not the infants were breastfeeding at the time – results suggest that infants, who were breastfeeding when they began eating food with gluten in it, were less likely to develop CD. Conversely, infants who were no longer breastfeeding when they started eating gluten were more likely to develop CD.
- Researchers posed the question of whether ingestion of small traces of gluten found in gluten-free foods posed a real risk or not to people with CD. The gluten-free foods they used for testing contained between 5-20 mg/kg of gluten. The center concluded that a trace of gluten less than or equal to 20 mg/kg in gluten-free foods was still a very safe option for patients with CD. During the study, less than 1% of the people tested showed a negative response to the traces of gluten.
- Lastly, a study conducted by the center explored the possibility of a link between CD/gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia. They drew upon previous research that showed gluten sensitivitIes were especially prevalent among people with schizophrenia. Their research here questioned whether or not a possible biomarker could potentially determine which schizophrenic patients might benefit from a gluten-free diet. The center continues to investigate this biomarker and the use of a gluten-free diet as a possible treatment for some patients with schizophrenia.
As the Maryland Center for Celiac Research continues their dedicated work, specific research goals for the future include: looking to better understand the biomarkers and genetics of CD, to study the psychology of the newly diagnosed, and to better understand the role of gluten sensitivity in mental disorders including autism and schizophrenia. We are lucky to have such a dedicated research center helping to further advance our undertstanding of CD and the role gluten plays in a vareity of diseases and disorders.
UPDATE: After nearly twenty years of providing clinical care for patients and conducting innovative research in celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders, the Center for Celiac Research, under the leadership of Alessio Fasano, MD, has moved from Baltimore to Mass General Hospital for Children in Boston.