Media & Press

Professor awarded medal for research into coeliac disease

Professor David Sanders, Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital (Regional GI and Liver Unit) and University of Sheffield, is delighted to have been awarded a renowned medal for his research into coeliac disease.

Professor Sanders has been awarded the Cuthbertson Medal 2011 by the Nutrition Society – given each year to young scientists for excellence in clinical nutrition research that provides an evidence base for clinical practice. Granted annually since 1990 as a tribute to Sir David Cuthbertson, the late nutrition research pioneer, it is recognised as one of the most prestigious awards in the field.

Focusing on his extensive research into coeliac disease (CD) – a disorder of the small intestine caused by heightened sensitivity to gluten – Professor Sanders’ application for the medal was themed 'The Rise and Fall of Gluten'. Although mankind has existed in some progressive form for over 2.5 million years, it has only been exposed to wheat for the last 10,000 years. With an increase in gluten consumption over time, the prevalence of CD has increased. Today, around 1% of UK adults are affected by the disease, which can cause chronic diarrhoea, fatigue and growth deficiency as well as other symptoms.

At present, the only known treatment for CD is a lifelong gluten-free diet. However, this raises uncertainties with the nutritional effects of such a diet, for example on cholesterol levels. It is also not clearly understood whether adult patients with undetected coeliac disease and co-existent Type 1 diabetes benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Much of Professor Sanders' recent research has focussed on the nutritional effects of a gluten-free diet as well as the effects of having undetected CD. With factors such as this in mind, Professor Sanders’ research has profound implications for the treatment of patients in the future.

Professor Sanders, who was also named European Rising Star in Gastroenterology in 2010, said:

'I’m truly honoured to be awarded this medal and I feel very fortunate.

Coeliac disease is under-diagnosed and can have a serious and profound impact on people's overall health and quality of life. The nutritional impacts of maintaining a gluten-free diet, or indeed of having undetected CD, are areas that need urgent research and myself and my colleagues having been working hard to fill this gap.

I have been very lucky to be supported by research fellows, consultant colleagues, nursing staff, secretaries and dietitians at the Royal Hallamshire Regional GI and Liver Unit. Without this unending goodwill none of this work would have been possible.

In the future I plan to research the increased use of a gluten-free diet around the world and look further at a range of gluten-related disorders.'

Professor Sanders will collect his award in November at the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN) congress, where he will deliver a keynote lecture.