“No more naan,” they said.
A bread that served as a centerpiece of my Pakistani culture was, for the first time in my life, restricted. Seeing my disappointed face and relatively empty stomach, my mom brought out what seemed to be a more measly-looking batch of naan.
“This is for you,” she said with a nervous look on her face.
Filled with both confusion and eagerness, I swooped at the imposter naan and stuffed my face with it. The naan had a strange consistency and felt foreign to my taste buds. Of course, I was thankful to have naan regardless, but it just wasn’t the same. Though I did not know it at the time, from that point on, my life would never be the same.
From the day I was diagnosed with celiac disease approximately 2 years ago to my present self, sitting at my desk writing this article, life has been different. From consistently turning down the bread appetizer at restaurants to having to bring my own lunch to school, my life has changed more than I ever could have imagined.
As unique as my story may sound, this same burden is imposed on many more. Over 108 million people around the world are shackled with a gluten-free diet. Scientists call the eating regimen a cure. To us “celiacs,” it’s more of a restriction. As one of the most prevalent diseases, celiac disease causes more people than you may think to undergo the brutalities of a breadless life. Therefore, we must find a cure: we need our bread back. I need my naan back.
Fortunately for us celiacs, researchers at the University of Chicago were finally able to make a major breakthrough: the successful creation of a mouse model of the disease.
“We were able to fulfill all the requirements to induce the disease in the mice,” says Valerie Abadie, Ph.D., lead author of a journal article on the advancement.
After two full decades of study, the arrival which could bring me back my naan has finally arrived.
“To have a working mouse model, you have to assemble most of the components from the human situation: it’s like a puzzle,” says Dr. Abadie.
Researchers at numerous institutions have been trying to construct the model for years. Some previous animal models were missing the HLA-DQ8 gene, which is part of a larger group of genes that help the immune system recognize foreign antigens and mount an immune response. Others were missing IL-15, an inflammatory protein that is a primary culprit of small intestine damage. In prior failed mouse models, the mice would eat gluten but show no signs of villous atrophy, the erosion of intestinal villi and the main signifier of celiac disease. However, in the University of Chicago’s new model, the damage is analogous to that in humans. Even more exciting however, is how the damage can be reversed with the implementation of a gluten-free diet in the mice.
Thanks to this new mouse model and other advancements, researchers are now able to run experiments with all types of drugs in hopes of developing a cure for the disease.
“A cure could be coming in less than five years,” suggests Dr. Abadie.
Five years?! I’ll be just about done with college by then. All my worries about having to serve gluten free cakes at my wedding, having to order from gluten free menus late into my 30s and then having to comfort my kids when they get bullied for being a celiac, may be a thing of the past. Hearing these comforting words from Dr. Abadie opened up the possibility for a new and different future than I had imagined, one absent of gluten free menus and measly looking naan. It’s crazy to think that in less than five years, so many peoples’ lives could be changed by this discovery.
I now save the last part of this article to thank those dedicated to finding a cure. I thank Doctor Abadie and her team for working to give millions their bread back. I thank them for working hard to give me back my naan, a crucial piece of my culture. And finally, I thank them for giving all of us celiacs the gift of hope.
- Over 108 million people around the world eat a gluten-free diet.
- The diet is common amongst those diagnosed with celiac disease, a chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine.
- Fortunately, researchers have been able to create a promising mouse model of the disease, offering hope of new therapies in the future.
University of Chicago. “New mouse model for celiac disease to speed research on treatments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2020.www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200212131500.htm.
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Manasi Apte, Ph.D., is currently a Project Manager (science and health) at Ripple Effect, a professional consulting firm. She is a trained scientist and science communicator with an expertise in and delivering content across various platforms. Manasi strives to harness the awesome power of “stories” (amongst many other tools) to make science approachable, accessible and understood by everyone.
Valerie Abadie, Ph.D., is a research associate professor of gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. She was lead researcher involved with the groundbreaking discovery of the celiac implemented mouse model, a finding that is the first of its kind and has been sought after for more than twenty years. She is an expert on the topic of celiac disease, especially the implications of the mouse model.