Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease

Gloved hands holding a sample flask
Coeliac disease is a serious health condition that occurs when dietary gluten triggers a damaging immune response that attacks the body. It is associated with a range of health problems. Coeliac disease is often underdiagnosed and there is no cure. Our researchers are working to improve detection, management and treatment of coeliac disease.

Our coeliac disease research

The goal of the Institute’s coeliac disease research team is to improve the health of people with coeliac disease by improving the disease’s diagnosis and treatment.

Our researchers are:

  • Investigating why gluten is toxic to adults and children with coeliac disease.
  • Discovering how the immune response to gluten can be controlled to prevent or treat coeliac disease.
  • Developing new tests for diagnosing coeliac disease and predicting a person’s genetic risk.
  • Investigating the differences between gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease.
  • Exploring how symptoms can be treated.
  • Undertaking clinical projects to understand the burden of coeliac disease and improve its diagnosis and management.

Our coeliac disease research includes clinical studies that are open to members of the public.

Our immunology and inflammation researchers are also deciphering the basic mechanisms of why immune cells react to gluten, a usually harmless protein. This is revealing new strategies for switching harmful immune responses off. In the long term, this could contribute to better treatments for coeliac disease.

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition caused by gluten, a food protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Coeliac disease often causes digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. It can also cause anaemia, low iron levels and excessive tiredness. It is also associated with osteoporosis, other autoimmune disease, infection and some types of cancer.

Our research has revealed that 1 in 60 women and 1 in 80 men in Australia have coeliac disease but 80 per cent remain undiagnosed. 

Why does coeliac disease occur?

Both genetic and environmental factors are important for coeliac disease to develop. More than half of the Australian population has the main coeliac risk genes HLA-DQ2 and/or HLA-DQ8.

It is not understood why only some genetically susceptible people develop coeliac disease but a range of environmental factors is likely to be important.

How is coeliac disease treated?

Treatment of coeliac disease involves a strict and lifelong gluten-free diet. This is a challenging and costly treatment that has a significant impact on people’s lifestyles. Even on a gluten-free diet, people with coeliac disease may still experience the condition’s short-term symptoms and long-term complications.

Coeliac Australia provides information and support for people with coeliac disease.

Super Content: 
Clinician and patient in a consulting room

Our researchers are leading clinical studies into coeliac disease. Our studies involve volunteers with coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity, as well as healthy volunteers.

Find out how you can participate.

Gloved hands holding oats

Our research has explained why oats are toxic to some people with coeliac disease.

Coeliac disease vaccine vial

The world’s first potential 'vaccine' for coeliac disease has shown promising results in a Phase I clinical trial.

While most proteins were readily consumed, some people’s immune systems struggled to tolerate others.

Bread rolls

Dr Jason Tye-Din talks about coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity on ABC TV's Catalyst.