Thousands of coeliac patients could one day eat gluten again without harm after a potential medical breakthrough.

Scientists gave 17 patients an injection with medicine that hides the allergen inside a nanoparticle that the immune system believes is friendly.

It then prevents the body from attacking gluten - effectively stopping gluten from damaging the small intestine and disrupting the body's ability to absorb nutrients.

Northwestern University, Illinois, scientists, who developed the treatment, fed coeliac patients gluten for two weeks after receiving the experimental injection and found there was 90 per cent less inflammation in their intestines.

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They claim they could enclose a protein from pancreatic cells inside the same nanoparticle to induce tolerance to insulin in type 1 diabetics, the Daily Mail reported.

Professor Stephen Miller has been working on refining the "Trojan horse" technology for decades, and says the first results on coeliac patients look promising.

"This is the first demonstration the technology works in [coeliac] patients."

The only current treatment for coeliac is living without gluten.

Gluten, usually derived from wheat, is found in pasta, most types of bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits and cakes.

Professor Miller said: "Doctors can only prescribe gluten avoidance, which is not always effective and carries a heavy social and economic toll for coeliac patients."

The experimental treatment, presented at the European Gastroenterology Week conference in Barcelona, could change that.

The immune system is not alarmed when it spots the gluten-loaded nanoparticle in the blood because it treats it as harmless debris.

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Half of the volunteers were given the treatment, the others were not. Six of the volunteers who received a placebo had to drop out because of their symptoms.

Results showed the CNP-101 treatment blocked the activation of T cells, which causes inflammation and damages the intestine.