Researchers from CHU Sainte-Justine initiate a study on the genetic epidemiology of celiac disease in 500 Québec families

    MONTREAL, Feb. 6 /CNW Telbec/ - For the first time in Canada, a research
team from Sainte-Justine hospital is initiating a genetic and epidemiological
study of celiac disease sufferers and their families. Dr. Idriss Saiah,
renowned for his research on immunogenetics of type I diabetes and auto-immune
hepatitis, will direct the study.
    This focus group study of children will look at susceptibility genes in
celiac disease and will make it possible to screen Québec families who have
one or several members with the disease.
    Accompanied by Soeur Angèle, well-known culinary personality and
spokesperson for the Québec Celiac Foundation, Dr. Saiah enthusiastically
announced this Canadian first. This important study of 500 families is
innovative and non-invasive for subjects, since saliva samples are used for

    The most common genetic disorder in North America and Europe

    Celiac disease is a complex, polygenic multifactorial autoimmune disease.
It is caused by a permanent intolerance to gluten (protein found in several
cereals) and results in inflammatory destruction of the small intestine, which
is responsible for absorption of food. The disease is caused by the immune
system's abnormal response to gluten. The disease is now considered to be the
most common genetic disorder in Europe and North America. With a prevalence of
1%, it is estimated that about 76 000 Quebecers and more than
300 000 Canadians have the disease.
    "Despite the high prevalence rate and serious consequences (like cancer)
that result from late diagnosis or from not following a gluten-free diet,
research and support for patients are underestimated by funding agencies,"
says Dr. Saiah.
    Soeur Angèle, spokesperson for the activities organized around the Québec
Celiac Foundation's 25th anniversary, is very concerned by the daily lives of
children and adults with celiac disease.
    "For me, spreading the word about the disease is essential. But a new
study, that's even better. It is important that Quebecers be aware of the
symptoms of the disease so they can consult a specialist and finally find a
solution to their ailment. Because I know the pleasures of good food, I can
understand people with the disease who have to follow a strict gluten-free
diet and change their eating habits for life. That's why I want to get
involved," explained Soeur Angèle.

    Importance of early diagnosis

    Dr. Claude Roy, gastroenterologist and researcher at the CHU
Sainte-Justine, adds "Early diagnosis of celiac disease can make all the
difference to a person's quality of life, especially for children, who often
experience growth retardation. It is well known that undiagnosed, and
therefore untreated, patients are at higher risk of serious long-term
complications such as lymphomas, autoimmune diseases, infertility, anaemia,
malnutrition, osteoporosis, and psychoneurological disorders."
    Early diagnosis of the disease on a clinical basis is often difficult.
Many cases with atypical, silent or asymptomatic forms of the disease go
undiagnosed because of the lack of information and poor access to diagnostic
tests. The blood and genetic tests proposed in this study will identify people
at risk of developing the disease in families with a member who is already
affected. Moreover, these tests will help determine whether or not a biopsy
should be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
    Based on his extensive experience, Dr. Roy estimates that the study
results will shed new light on the prevalence of this disease in Québec.
Thanks to the knowledge generated by this genetic study, researchers will be
able to identify individuals who are predisposed to the disease in families
with a member who is already affected, and in due course to develop prevention

    Province-wide recruitment

    The Québec Celiac Foundation is providing funding for the research
project and is also organizing the recruitment of 500 families (over
2000 individuals) throughout Québec. To date, over 350 families have
registered to participate in the study.

    Understanding the disease better

    According to the study director, Dr. Saiah, "This study will help us
better understand the history of the disease in Québec, and could be applied
not only Canada-wide but also internationally." The findings will enable us to
shed new light on the prevalence and morbidity of the disease in Québec, to
eventually develop new preventive measures, and to make the public,
governments and health services more aware of the extent of this disease and
its socio-economic consequences.

    The Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine is the largest
mother-child centre in Canada and one of the four most important paediatric
centres on the American continent. It encompasses 450 beds, admits
19 000 people annually and welcomes 260 000 patients at its outpatient clinic.
It has over 4 000 employees. The CHU Sainte-Justine is by far the largest
paediatric training centre in Québec and a leader in Canada. CHU
Sainte-Justine and its research centre's international reputation is quite
impressive. CHU Sainte-Justine celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 2007.

    The Québec Celiac Foundation is a non-profit organization created in 1983
to provide assistance to people with celiac disease. It offers support and
advice to its members as well as up-to-date information on the disease and the
only way to control it, a gluten-free diet. The Foundation currently has over
2,300 members. Since 2007, the Foundation has had a scientific committee to
promote research on the disease and offer financial support (scholarships) to
graduate students.

For further information:

For further information: Lise Oligny, FQMC, (514) 529-8806; Nicole
Saint-Pierre, Communications advisor, CHU Sainte-Justine, (514) 345-4663;
Source: CHU Sainte-Justine, FQMC

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