Coeliac UK has launched a research fund and fundraising appeal to raise £5m to study coeliac disease and gluten-related autoimmune conditions.

The move, which is backed by the charity’s patron – actress Caroline Quentin, who was diagnosed with coeliac disease three years ago – will boost research into key areas including triggers and risk factors, neurological forms and the link with other autoimmune conditions.

Money will also be spent on identifying less invasive diagnostic tests, ways to prevent the onset of the disease as well as a possible cure.

According to Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, half a million people remain undiagnosed and more support is needed to help get them get diagnosed and manage their condition with a gluten-free diet.

She claimed that, through further research, answers could possibly be found to other devastating autoimmune conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes, if progress was made in identifying the cause of coeliac disease.

“With more people being diagnosed with coeliac disease each year and with new health complications emerging, it is critical we make the commitment now to change the status quo and make coeliac disease research everyone’s priority,” Sleet continued.

“Fifty years ago little was known about coeliac disease and the gluten-free diet; bread used to come in a tin and people wrongly thought children would grow out of the autoimmune disease. Fast-forward to today and both the disease and the diet are firmly on the worldwide map and 150,000 diagnosed people in the UK now live a better way of life thanks to improved recognition and diagnosis.”

The fund has so far received £500,000 from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, as well as £250,000 from the charity. Match funding will bring in a further £250,000 from industry, making the first £1m available.

“It is fantastic to be working with charities such as Coeliac UK to promote innovations that will have a real, positive impact on people’s lives,” added Dr Ian Campbell, director of ageing society, health and nutrition, at Innovate UK.