Gluten-Free Vaccine Trial Gives New Hope To Coeliacs

Phase two of a world-first clinical trial is underway to test a vaccine scientists hope will end the need for coeliacs to adhere to gluten-free diets.

Currently, the only available option for coeliac disease -- a condition which causes the immune system to react abnormally to the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye-- is to avoid gluten in food entirely.

But even successfully navigating this strict, lifelong diet isn't full-proof.

"It is quite tricky, it's complex and even people who are strict with the diet don't always get good healing of their bowl and can still suffer persistent symptoms," Dr Jason Tye-Din, Head of Coeliac Research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, told Ten News.

"So there's been a real need to develop better treatments."

That better treatment may come in the form of the Nexvax2 vaccine which is set to begin clinical trials at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Clinical Trials Centre.

Administered as a series of injections, Nexvax2 is designed to target the cells which trigger an inflammatory response to gluten.

Researchers hope the treatment will allow the immune system's abnormal toxic response to be reprogrammed, allowing the 160,000 Australians with coeliac disease to avoid a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

Dr Tye-Din said if the trial shows positive results, it would suggest coeliac patients should one day be able to enjoy a normal diet without any adverse side effects.

“This trial is important in establishing clinical proof-of-concept for a treatment that would provide benefit beyond that of the gluten free diet," he said.

Products including wheat, rye and barely, such as bread, are off limits. Image: Getty

While around 1 in 70 Australians suffer from coeliac disease, 80 percent don't know they have it.

Angeliquie Nikitiuk, a Melbourne law student, was only diagnosed at the beginning of year 12.

“Previously before that I noticed a lot of stomach issues and I had light-headedness and dizzy spills,” she told Ten News.

Her diagnosis meant a "complete lifestyle change" which impacts on social activities and everyday life.

“Eating out is the hardest thing, the most difficult thing. I find a lot of people are accommodating to me because I'm the one with the limitations so that’s probably the biggest challenge."

The announcement of the Australian trial comes eight years after a Melbourne-designed injection was shown to be safe in the first patients during an international trial led by pharmaceutical company ImmusanT Inc.

Nikitiuk describes the idea she may be able to put gluten back on the menu as "surreal" -- a feeling thousands of others in her position would likely share.

"Our members and many thousands of Australians with coeliac disease have been looking forward to the announcement of the Phase 2 trial," President of Coeliac Australia Michael Bell said in a statement.

"Many have been following the development of Nexvax2 for more than a decade and are hopeful the results will take us one step closer to an effective treatment for celiac disease."

Scientists are currently recruiting coeliacs to participate in the trial, which will also be rolled out in Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Mackay and the Sunshine Coast.

Photo: Getty

With AAP.