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Key for celiac disease sufferers could be in saliva

Boston—A researcher at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine has received a Research Project Grant (R01) from the National Institutes of Health to study the effect of human saliva enzymes on celiac disease.

The R01 award is from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Eva Helmerhorst, a periodontist at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and lead researcher of the paper, “Gastro-intestinal Microbes Degrading Dietary Gluten,” will study the enzymes to see whether they help break down the dietary gluten that gives people with celiac disease difficulty in tolerating gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, more than 2 million people in the United States suffer from celiac disease.

The $2 million grant is funded for five years.

“The discovery of enzymes with gluten-degrading capacity in the oral cavity may open new diagnostic and treatment avenues for patients afflicted with celiac disease,” Dr. Helmerhorst said, adding: “The ultimate goal is to develop novel and clinically effective strategies to detoxify immunogenic gluten using therapeutic applications including enzymatic and probiotic approaches.”

Dr. Helmerhorst will collaborate on this research with Dr. Frank Oppenheim, a GSDM professor, and Dr. Floyd Dewhirst at the Forsyth Institute. The functional studies pertaining to gluten neutralization in vivo will be carried out in a mouse model in collaboration with Dr. Detlef Schuppan in the Division of Gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, according to a GSDM press release.