Celiac Disease Center

February 10, 2015

When pediatric gastroenterologist Stefano Guandalini, MD came from Italy to the University of Chicago Medicine in the late 1990s, he was stunned to find very few patients with celiac disease. He quickly realized U.S. diagnosis rates were “dismal to ridiculously low,” which led to his founding of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center in 2001. Since then, through education and advocacy, the center has helped more than 100,000 people with celiac disease across the U.S.

“At the same time we are meeting the critical needs of children and adults with celiac disease, our dedicated physicians and scientists are committed to finding a cure,” Dr. Guandalini said. “We have only one of two research teams in the world working to understand the nature of the immune system in the gut and the earliest response of the intestine to the presence of gluten.”

To educate medical professionals about the disease, the Celiac Center offers a two-day Preceptorship Program in early December, which includes intensive formal instruction as well as hands-on training. Registration begins in early August.

“While more and more primary care physicians refer patients to us when they see signs of the disease, 85 percent of celiacs remain undiagnosed,” said Dr. Guandalini. “We are training doctors to think celiac in a number of conditions, even when a patient is asymptomatic and it may not look like celiac at first glance.”

Physicians who suspect celiac disease are encouraged to give patients a simple antibody blood test in their office, and then refer those who are positive to the Celiac Center for an endoscopic biopsy of the bowel for definitive diagnosis. Early diagnosis is important in celiac disease because associated complications such as tooth discoloration, enamel loss and growth failure may remain permanent if not treated early. Delayed diagnosis is also associated with increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis, or malignancy, and even causing death.

To counsel physicians and to help patients understand celiac disease, the Celiac Center provides a FactSheets and Answer Bank. Newly diagnosed patients receive a Gluten Free Care Package, a basket of helpful and essential resources, including a gluten-free food guide, support group information and food samples to introduce them to a gluten-free diet. The Celiac Center also hosts an annual celiac blood screening in the fall and multiple speakers throughout the year.

Dr. Guandalini said, “Through our two-pronged approach – education/advocacy and research – we will continue to help people cope with the disease, while providing hope for a cure for future generations.”

For questions, please visit the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website or call 773-702-7593.