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19 December 2011

Sheffield professor collects prestigious medal for medical research

A Sheffield professor has been granted a renowned national award for his research into a common bowel condition.

Professor David Sanders, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield, has received the Cuthbertson Medal from the Nutrition Society for his contribution to research into coeliac disease.

Professor Sanders was presented the award by Professor Ian MacDonald (Professor of Metabolic Physiology at Nottingham University and one of the judges of the medal) at the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition’s (BAPEN) annual congress.

The award is given each year to young scientists for excellence in clinical nutrition research that provides evidence for clinicians to use in their work. 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.

The Professor has carried out extensive research into coeliac disease – a disorder of the small intestine caused by heightened sensitivity to gluten – and its history, causes, symptoms and treatment.
Professor Sanders was the first investigator to describe the fact that patients presenting with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could have previously undetected coeliac disease. This landmark study has changed the way clinicians deal with patients presenting with IBS symptoms and government guidelines now recommend mandatory testing for coeliac disease.

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.

The Coeliac Specialist clinic at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital has the largest population of patients within the UK – more than 1000. But despite this there may be up to 5000 undiagnosed cases in Sheffield alone.

At present, the only known treatment for the disease 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, who also have Type 1 diabetes, benefit from a gluten-free diet.

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

The Professor, 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 coeliac disease, are areas that need urgent research and myself and my colleagues have 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 Hospital. Patients have taken part in numerous studies and given their time freely over the years. 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.”

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