Originally Released: August 1, 2000
Contact: Ellen Beth Levitt, email@example.com, 410-328-8919
Imagine a disease that prevents you from eating foods like pizza, bread, pasta, cereal, ice cream, soup, and beer. It could even prohibit you from using everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, makeup, toothpaste, or licking postage stamps and envelopes. People who suffer from the genetic disorder celiac disease face these challenges everyday. The only treatment is to avoid eating foods that contain the protein gluten, which is found in wheat and other grains. Celiac disease can cause severe intestinal problems and lead to serious complications such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.
While celiac disease is widely diagnosed in Europe, experts believe that it is underreported in the United States. Studies from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research indicate that the disease affects one out of every 150 Americans. That is up from original estimates of one out of every 7,000 Americans with the disorder.
The research findings will be presented at the Ninth Annual International Symposium on Celiac Disease, which is being held in the United States for the first time on August 10-13, 2000, at the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn near Baltimore. The University of Maryland School of Medicine and its Center for Celiac Research are hosting the event, along with the University of Chicago School of Medicine.
By hosting the International Symposium on Celiac Disease, the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research hopes to increase awareness of the disorder in the United States. Last month, the center launched a nationwide public awareness campaign with NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Rich Gannon and a Wisconsin-based grassroots organization, Friends of Celiac Research.
"Celiac disease may be one of the most common genetically based disorders," says Alessio Fasano, M.D., co-director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research. "If you add together all of the people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and cystic fibrosis, you would only have half of the number of people with celiac disease," adds Dr. Fasano, who is also professor of pediatrics, medicine, and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and director of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.
Dr. Fasano and his research team recently completed a study to determine the extent of celiac disease in the U.S. and found that more than one million Americans have celiac disease. Using a simple blood test, the researchers screened 10,000 people for specific gluten antibodies. People with celiac disease produce these antibodies to attack the gluten when they eat foods containing the protein. The antibodies also attack the intestine, which causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, malabsorption of nutrients, and other gastrointestinal problems.
In addition to Dr. Fasano's work, researcher B. Shahbazkhani of the Tehran University of Medical Science will present a study that charts the extent of celiac disease in Iran among patients suffering from chronic diarrhea. The study found that 20 percent of people with chronic diarrhea had celiac disease.
Jean Powell, who is the director of the Montana Celiac Society, will present evidence that evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin may have suffered from celiac disease. Using Darwin's family history and other historical text, Powell matched all of the symptoms for Darwin's "mystery illness" to known celiac disease symptoms. The symposium will also serve as a resource for people with celiac disease. Support groups and other grassroots organizations will meet to discuss new ways of helping people with the disorder. Manufacturers and distributors of gluten-free foods will also display their latest products for the public.
"This symposium is a tremendous opportunity to bring more exposure to celiac disease in this country," says Dr. Fasano. "In Europe, celiac disease is widely recognized and can usually be diagnosed in three to four weeks. In the U.S., people often suffer for 12 to 14 years before they are even tested for celiac disease. We want to change that," adds Dr. Fasano.
For information on attending the International Symposium on Celiac Disease, please call 410-706-3957.
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