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The majority of Europeans eat all types of foods with no major repercussions on their health, but as much as one per cent of the population is debilitated by coeliac disease (CD). This chronic disorder is caused by hypersensitivity in the small intestine to gluten, a substance found in some cereals, including wheat, rye and barley. In people with CD, gluten reacts with the small bowel, which is responsible for absorbing nutrients and vitamins, triggering the immune system to attack its sensitive lining.

Whilst CD wreaks havoc on people’s health, it also burns big holes in society’s pockets. In recent years, researchers have worked diligently to shed light on the immunological, genetic and epidemiological factors of this disorder. However, disparities exist between the groups of researchers working on CD’s basic scientific aspects, and those assessing the clinical and social aspect.

Consequently, one of the aims of the CDEUSSA project is to bridge the gap between the basic science (genetics, immunology and cereal chemistry) carried out on CD, and its application in prevention, clinical treatment and the food industry. Key partners from diverse backgrounds are working together to establish the scientific basis for groundbreaking research on the primary prevention and effective treatment of CD, using genomics and proteomics techniques.


The project’s participants, hailing from the academic and industrial sectors, and patient groups, intend to create and launch two workshops in Europe, involving top scientific experts and industry representatives. A European multi-stakeholder platform of experts on CD is being established in order to further promote integrated European research in the coming years. The participants are also proposing new methods for the prevention and treatment of CD for the FP7 programme. Their recommendations include encouraging the participation of European industry, and combining basic science with clinical applications.

The latest data suggest that out of the total European population affected by CD, only 15% are diagnosed correctly. Researchers believe that the crux of the problem lies in the fact that there are disparities between basic science and the applications of its results. So it may not come as a surprise that the only treatment currently available for CD sufferers is one discovered by the Dutch paediatrician, K. Dicke in 1950. He recommended a gluten-free diet for life.


The gluten-free diet weighs heavily on the budgets of the 2.5 million people affected by CD. Patients each spend about €1,200 - 1,300 per year, to ensure they are eating the right foods. In a nutshell, with 2.5 million CD cases in Europe, the financial burden for Europe reaches the €3 billion mark. It is claimed by some, however, that the extra cost is offset by the fact that patients are not off work for long periods of time, nor do they spend a great deal of money on medicines. Despite this experts maintain that primary prevention would be best, both for economical and humanitarian reasons.

CDEUSSA participants are assessing the link between diet and the risk of developing CD, and the influence of genetic variability. Fresh research strategies are also being developed to focus on the introduction of gluten in the diets of infants. Viable intervention models targeting the prevention of CD development are being designed, as CDEUSSA encourages better research on health through diet, thus promoting dietary policy. The scientific results derived from the project will be influential in the implementation of new regulations at European level. Ultimately, encouraging and reinforcing cooperation between basic science and the applications of its results will promote high quality, safe, healthy and overall improved food for all Europeans.

List of Partners

  • Leiden University Medical Centre (The Netherlands)
  • Umea University (Sweden)
  • University of Naples, Federico II (Italy)
  • The Medical University of Warsaw (Poland)
Full title:
European platform for research on prevention and treatment of coeliac disease: a multidisciplinary approach to integrate basic scientific knowledge in clinical applications and food industry
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Maria Luisa Mearin,
Dept of Paediatrics, Leiden University Medical Centre
EC Scientific Officer:
Isabelle de Froidmont-Görtz,
EU contribution:
€ 117,800
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top