New diagnostic test leads to earlier detection of neurological damage caused by gluten sensitivity

A new diagnostic test leading to the earlier detection of neurological damage caused by sensitivity to gluten is being offered at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The trust is using the new test that checks for the presence of the anti-transglutaminase-6 (TG6) antibody in patients presenting with neurological problems.

In a research study led by Professor Marios Hadjivassiliou, consultant neurologist at the trust and published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal, showed that two-thirds of newly diagnosed coeliac disease patients had evidence of damage or loss in key sensory areas of the brain even though they had no previous diagnosis or history of neurological problems.

Patients were also found to have the anti-transglutaminase-6 (TG6) antibody had notably higher levels of damage in healthy brain cells in specific regions of the brain compared to those without TG6 antibodies.

The trust said the test could help hundreds of patients to get vital, earlier diagnosis and treatment of conditions like gluten ataxia.

Professor Marios Hadjivassiliou, said: “We are delighted to be the first NHS Trust in the country to be offering patients this new diagnostic test which detects the presence of the TG6 antibody in patients with neurological presentations and in patients with newly diagnosed coeliac disease.”

“Gluten ataxia is the second commonest cause of ataxia and affects up to 25% of people diagnosed with coeliac disease. There is often a ten-year delay between the diagnosis of coeliac disease, at the age of 43, and the diagnosis of gluten ataxia at the age of 53. The good news is that this test provides clinicians with an early opportunity to detect gluten ataxia. Once identified, a strict gluten-free diet should be advocated.”

Over 600 patients with gluten ataxia have been treated at the specialist Sheffield Ataxia Centre, Royal Hallamshire Hospital.