Over 100 infants at risk of developing celiac disease have been registered in an international study that aims to solve the mystery of how the autoimmune condition occurs – and then stop it in its tracks.
“By studying the microbial communities in the gut and various environmental factors, we hope to create a complete enough picture to eventually prevent celiac disease before it begins,” said Dr. Alessio Fasano, the director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Boston’s MassGeneral Hospital for Children, who is one of the lead researchers.
“We are learning more every day about the role the microbiome plays in maintaining the balance between health and disease,” he said in reference to the abundant microorganisms that inhabit our bodies, and are already offering clues to diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
Officially called the “Celiac Disease, Genomic, Environmental, Microbiome and Metabolomic Study,” or CDGEMM, the joint U.S.-Italian undertaking plans to enroll 500 infants altogether. Researchers will analyze the complex composition of microbial communities in the infants’ guts, marking changes as the children age and develop and fine-tune their immune systems.
“We want to establish which infants will take the wrong turn to develop celiac disease and which ones do not,” notes Fasano.
The first stage of the study, projected to begin this summer, will look at how factors such as mode of birth and use of antibiotics affect those microbial communities in the infants’ first year of life.
To inquire about enrolling an infant in the study, send an email to CDGEMM@mgh.harvard.edu or call 617-643-9942.