Treatments for incurable bowel conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis may be a step closer thanks to new research.

A team at Edinburgh University have a identified a key molecule associated with flare-ups of inflammatory bowel disease.

It is hoped the discovery will lead to new tests to help doctors monitor patients' condition and help them to tailor treatments accordingly.

Around 300,000 people in the UK suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, which currently have no cure.

The researchers took blood samples from 100 people with IBD and found tiny molecules called mtDNA present.

The mtDNA was not present in those who did not have IBD, while people with the most severe illness had the highest levels.

In healthy people the mtDNA is recycled and disposed of safely by the body.

However, these processes do not work properly in people with IBD, which enables mtDNA to leak from the affected gut into the blood stream.

This can trick the immune system into thinking an infections is present, causing the inflammation.

The presence of mtDNA could now be used as a marker to track disease progression and help determine therapies.

The research, published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease, was funded by Crohn's & Colitis UK and the Medical Research Council.

Dr Gwo-Tzer Ho, who led the study, said: "We are now investigating how to block these molecules from triggering inflammation, in the hope of development new therapies to prevent disease flare-ups and to accelerate patient recovery after an attack."