Can a blood test identify people who cannot tolerate oats?

Jason Tye-Din is a medical graduate of the University of Melbourne, Australia and completed gastroenterology training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He has practiced medicine since 1996, and for the last 15 years has combined coeliac disease research with patient care. His PhD examined immune responses to gluten in coeliac disease which led to the development of an immunotherapy now in clinical trials.

What was the main issue your research was seeking to address?

Oats contain avenin, a protein similar to gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. A small number of people with coeliac disease may also be intolerant to oats however, it is difficult to identify those people in advance.

In a previous study we have shown 1 in 12 (8%) of people with coeliac disease had an immune response after they consumed oats, producing oat specific T cells (a type of immune cell) detectable in their bloodstream.

The aim of this research project was to validate the role of a blood test to identify patients “at risk” of oat toxicity.

How successful was the project in achieving this?

The study has not yet completed the primary aim. The reason being, that to verify the role of a blood test, we need a significant number of people who have a “positive” immune result to correlate this with clinical data (biopsy samples). However a significant number of people with a “positive” immune response have not been found so the project has been revised to allow us to:

  • Study the differences between avenin proteins in different varieties of oats.
  • We reasoned that a higher dose of oats is more likely to stimulate an immune response. To achieve this goal, we developed a method to extract pure avenin from oats.
What are the key things that were learnt as a result of this project?
  • Immune responses to oats do occur in some people with coeliac disease but are relatively uncommon even when 100g of oats is consumed.
  • Gut damage is seen in a subset of people with coeliac disease after they consume wheat free oats for three months. However, it is difficult to determine whether the changes are definitely caused by oats or other things such as accidental gluten exposure.
  • The amount of avenin protein present in different varieties of oats is variable
  • We developed a method to extract pure avenin protein from oats suitable for human consumption. This will allow us to undertake more studies to assess oat toxicity and validate the immune blood test.  
How will this project benefit patients?

Once successfully completed, the project will establish the role for a simple blood test to identify those at risk of oat toxicity.

How has the funding from Coeliac UK made a difference?

The funding from Coeliac UK has been instrumental in allowing us to carry out the immune studies to assess responses after oats ingestion and support some of the protein chemistry work that helped define the avenin proteins in oats.

Principal Investigator: Dr Jason Tye-Din

Institution: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Victoria, Australia

Grant awarded: £40k