Dr. Eva Helmerhorst Awarded Funding to Seek Celiac Disease Treatment

Dr. Eva Helmerhorst
Dr. Eva Helmerhorst

Associate Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology Dr. Eva Helmerhorst has received an NIH Independent Scientist Award (K02) in the form of a five-year salary award of $75,000. The funding comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and began June 15, 2013.

According to the NIAID website, “The K02 is intended to foster the development of outstanding scientists and enable them to expand their potential to make significant contributions to their field of research.”

Dr. Helmerhorst said, regarding the award:

While this is a salary award to me, of course, the project involves some very distinguished physicians and investigators, and it is really the team that makes this project successful. I would like to recognize Drs. Detlef Schuppan, Ciaran Kelly, and Dan Leffler at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Floyd Dewhirst at the Forsyth Institute, and Dr. Frank Oppenheim at GSDM.

Dr. Helmerhorst’s research centers on the role of saliva in gastrointestinal health and disease. Her team found that saliva contains enzymes that can cleave gluten. Gluten is not tolerated by people who suffer from celiac disease. Because there is no true therapy for celiac disease at this time, people with the disease must eliminate gluten from their diet. Research from Dr. Helmerhorst’s lab has shown that the gluten-degrading enzyme activities in saliva are derived from bacteria that degrade gluten into smaller fragments. Thus, her research team is working to see if there is a potential therapeutic application for these newly discovered bacteria and their enzymes in the treatment of celiac disease.

In April 2013, Dr. Helmerhorst published on the findings in the publication Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in an article titled “The cultivable human oral gluten-degrading microbiome and its potential implications in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.”

Dr. Helmerhorst gave a lecture on the same topic on June 10, 2013, as an invited speaker at the Gordon Conference in Mucosal Health and Disease. The title of the lecture was “Oral microbial enzymes and their potential application in celiac disease.”

Said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter, “Congratulations to Dr. Helmerhorst on her funding award. As an outstanding researcher, Dr. Helmerhorst advances the mission of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine to promote excellence in research to improve the overall health of the global population.”