Research relating to what may cause children to develop celiac disease are of more interest to me these days. I have a 7-month-old daughter and I’m celiac myself. Will my daughter inherit my disease and which factors make it more likely?
A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), finds that more than one quarter of children with two copies of a high-risk gene variant develop celiac disease autoimmunity (CDA) by the age of 5. CDA is a precursor to celiac disease. Nearly 90 percent of people celiac disease will have at least one copy of this high-risk gene.
The study looked at 6,403 newborns with either of two high-risk gene groups, HLA-DR3-DQ2 or HLA-DR4-DQ8. These are vital for immune system function and processing gluten. Over five years, 291 of the children wound up with celiac disease, and 786 developed CDA. About 90 percent of celiac disease patients have the HLA-DR3-DQ2 variant.
The researchers found that children with two copies of HLA-DR3-DQ2 had the greatest chance of developing the disease. Of them, 26 percent developed CDA and 12 percent developed celiac disease by age 5. In those with one copy of HLA-DR3-DQ2, the risks of CDA and celiac disease by age 5 were 11 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
“By looking at the genes of the children … we can now identify who among them is at highest risk for celiac disease, and their parents and health care providers can monitor these children to detect the disease,” says Beena Akolkar, a scientist working on the study.
It’s long been thought that while genes are vital in determining whether a person can ever go on to develop an autoimmune disorder such as celiac disease, the importance of environmental factors must also be considered. Dr. Peter Green, Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, says that more studies need to be done in order to figure out how genes, diet and the environment all interact to cause disease. He also says that celiac disease is the perfect model in which to explore this.
Many of us spent years suffering from a whole variety of nasty symptoms before finally being diagnosed as celiac. If we know that certain people are high-risk, perhaps the disease would be better and more quickly diagnosed. I think this is something that most of us would have wished for.