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One in every hundred Europeans is affected by coeliac disease (CD), a lifelong inflammatory condition that forces people to give up some of their favourite foods. The culprit is gluten, a substance found in our daily diet and contained in cereals such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten affects the sufferers’ small bowel, causing the immune system to attack its sensitive lining, thereby interfering with the proper absorption of nutrients and vitamins.

This disease, however, also causes financial heartache for patients and their families. Because they are forced to follow a specific gluten-free diet, sufferers must fork out €1 200 to €1 300 a year to meet the extra cost. With 2,5 million CD cases in Europe, the financial burden for the EU is a whopping €3-3,3 billion a year. Consequently, PREVENTCD has set its eyes on reducing the number of Europeans suffering from CD, with success being achieved through the development of primary prevention strategies for the condition. These are determined by investigating the influence of early dietary history and early feeding practices on young European children, along with genetic, immunological and environmental factors.


Unfortunately for CD sufferers, the only treatment currently available to them is a gluten-free diet for life. What may be even more depressing is that this treatment was discovered more than half a century ago. While non-sufferers can take for granted such pleasures as attending a dinner party or even holidaying on a cruise ship, these can prove nightmarish for those with CD. They must expend a great deal of time and effort searching supermarket shelves, cooking special foods and even visiting doctors to ensure their health. Ultimately, primary prevention would prove helpful both economically and with regard to quality of life.

Experts from different backgrounds in industry or academic and patient organisations are pooling their resources to conduct innovative research, in order to determine whether it is possible to induce gluten tolerance in genetically predisposed children through the introduction of small quantities of the substance whilst they are still breast feeding. Those involved in PREVENTCD, specifically basic science experts and leaders in clinical and preventive medicine research, will use genomics techniques to identify those factors in early dietary history that trigger a negative gluten response. As a result, new European guidelines for early nutrition in order to prevent the condition arising, will be developed.


A thousand young children who are from families considered to be at high risk of developing the disease form part of PREVENTCD’s study group. Researchers are investigating the possibility of inducing an immune tolerance for gluten in these genetically predisposed children. At the same time, a follow-up population study involving 16 000 twelve-year-old Swedish children, will assess the late effect of early dietary history on CD development. PREVENTCD offers a better understanding of how dietary history affects human health. Ultimately, what is important is that formulating better early nutrition guidelines for good health will effectively improve the well-being of Europeans. PREVENTCD will give the food industry the impetus to act, making life much better for CD sufferers.

List of Partners

  • Academisch Ziekenhuis Leiden acting under the name Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum (The Netherlands)
  • University of Naples, Federico II (Italy)
  • Umeå University (Sweden)
  • Akademia Medyczna w Warszawie (Poland)
  • University Medical Center Utrecht ( The Netherlands)
  • La Paz University Hospital (Spain)
  • La Fe University Hospital (Spain)
  • Royal Numico N.V (The Netherlands)
  • Association of European Coeliac Disease Societies (Belgium)
  • Phadia (Germany)
  • Eurospital (Italy)
  • TECHNION – Israel Institute of Technology (Israel)
  • University of Oslo (Norway)
  • Children’s Hospital Zagreb (Croatia)
Full title:
Influence of the dietary history in the prevention of coeliac disease: possibilities of induction of tolerance for gluten in genetically predisposed children
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Maria Luisa Mearin, Academisch Ziekenhuis Leiden acting under the name Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum,
EC Scientific Officer:
Isabelle de Froidmont-Görtz,
Wilfried Diekmann,
EU contribution:
€ 3.7M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top