New Hope For Celiac Treatment As Testing Continues For Nexvax2

Getty Images | David Greedy

Getty Images | David Greedy

At least 3 million people in our country are living with celiac disease, which is an immune reaction to eating gluten.

Even trace amounts of gluten can cause the immune response and the resulting damage to the villi.

In an earlier trial of Nexvax2 in a small group of people, researchers showed that the vaccine was safe and well-tolerated among patients with celiac disease. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain and chronic fatigue.

"The drug triggers the death of the cells that cause the damaging immune response".

Here are five questions about celiac disease answered by Dr. Johanna Kreafle, an emergency medicine physician at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Currently, the only treatment available for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.

Dr. Jake Matlock with Hennepin Healthcare says, "If it does work it woudl be a game-changer for people with Celiac disease". If the screening test is positive then, a biopsy of your small intestine is recommended for confirmation of the disease. In theory, exposure to the peptides over time could help reprogram immune cells called T cells to become tolerant of gluten and no longer trigger an immune response to the substance, according to ImmusanT. Nexvax2 is a "therapeutic" vaccine, which means that it's created to address an immune response that's already happening in the bodies of those with celiac disease, Beyond Celiac explains. The vaccine is specifically created to work against the HLA-DQ2.5 genetic form of the disease, which accounts for 90 percent of people with celiac.

In September, the first patient received a dose of a vaccine. Doctors hope to find a total of 150 participants, from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, to test Nexvax2. Over the course of 16 weeks, researchers will steadily increase the dose of the vaccine and will follow how patients response to gluten proteins in the gut.

A phase 2 clinical trial typically lasts around two years. If all goes well, the therapy can enter phase III, where researchers need to demonstrate that vaccine is at least as safe and effective as now available options. The condition affects about 1 out of every 100 people in the United States.

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