A group of scientists was able to develop a minimally invasive test to detect celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an allergic reaction triggered by eating gluten commonly found in wheat products. Gluten allergy can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, especially on infants and children, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and poor nutrition absorption.

But while only one out of every 141 Americans is thought to have the disease according to the National Institute of Health, there could still be more since most cases remain undetected.

Currently, the disease can only be diagnosed by taking samples from the small intestines after consuming some gluten. But since the process can be painful, complicated and time-consuming especially for children, researchers from the University of Oslo came up with a simple blood test to make diagnosis easier.

Asbjørn Christophersen and his fellow researchers found that when food enters the small intestines, it is brought to the T-cells which then react negatively to the presence of gluten. This causes an immune system response that attempts to destroy the "invading" gluten, but in the process, other cells in the body bound to the gluten also get attacked. This reaction is the explanatory principle behind the new blood test.

Christophersen said that once the blood is extracted, a chemical will be added to the blood to detect abnormal reactions.

Christophersen explained that celiac disease patients have an elevated number of gluten-reactive T cells in their blood compared to those who are not allergic to gluten. This count appears to be independent of the amount of gluten-containing food consumed.

"When we allow blood cells to flow through a magnetic column, the cells that react to gluten remain suspended in the column while all the other cells flow through it," he added.

Christophersen and his fellow researchers are now conducting clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of the procedure on celiac disease patients, healthy individuals and those presenting symptoms similar to that of celiac disease.

While the test has not been officially approved for public use, once it gets cleared, testing for celiac disease will be as simple as visiting a clinic or a diagnostic laboratory. It is something Christophersen hopes to achieve in the future.

"We are now in contact with several leading international companies that are interested in using the technique for the diagnosis of celiac disease," he said. The team is also working on optimizing the technique for better diagnostic sensitivity.

Photo: Neeta Lind | Flickr

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