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Deakin University researchers, as well as members of the local Geelong community, have played a key role in developing a novel approach for detecting coeliac disease.
More than 2500 men and women enrolled in the Geelong Osteoporosis Study provided blood samples for traditional antibody testing and identification of specific genetic risk markers.
“The randomly-selected participants in the Geelong Osteoporosis Study are ideal for this project because they represent the broader population and were not selected on the basis of disease,” said lead investigator and epidemiologist, Professor Julie Pasco from Deakin University’s School of Medicine.
“There is evidence to suggest that coeliac disease increases the risk for osteoporosis.
“This is why we became involved in the project in the first place.”
Coeliac disease is a digestive condition caused by eating gluten in foods made from wheat, barley, rye and oats and can be found in people of any age.
It is usually present for many years before diagnosis and does not get better without removing gluten from the diet.
The Geelong-based research team involved endocrinologist Associate Professor Mark Kotowicz and gastroenterologist Dr Ross Knight.
Other key players included Dr Jason Tye-Din from the Immunology division of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Dr Bob Anderson, chief scientific officer at US biotechnology company ImmusanT and researchers from The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute.
“The project demonstrates how epidemiological research can be translated into a clinical setting and shape clinical practice,” Professor Pasco said.
Dr Tye-Din said the new approach of combining the genetic test with a panel of antibody tests would increase the accuracy of testing, decrease overall medical costs by reducing invasive diagnostic tests, and avoid medically unnecessary use of a gluten-free diet.
“Currently, bowel biopsies are recommended for anybody with positive antibody tests,” he said.
“In this study the inclusion of a genetic test helped identify a substantial number of people whose antibody tests were falsely positive and who did not actually require a bowel biopsy to test for the possibility of coeliac disease.”
The new testing strategy reveals that coeliac disease is more common in Australia than previously thought, affecting at least one in 60 women and one in 80 men; earlier estimates were approximately one in 100. The research was funded by INOVA Diagnostics Inc, Nexpep Pty. Ltd, the NHMRC, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, the Geelong Region Medical Research Foundation, and the Victorian government.
The findings are published online in the journal BMC Medicine.