A chemical found naturally in saliva could hold the key to helping patients with a painful and dangerous bowel disease.
The chemical is found naturally in saliva
Researchers from Leicester found that the substance, called EGF, appeared to improve the chances of ulcerative colitis going into remission.
One in 600 people in the UK have the illness, which leads to ulceration of the large intestine.
In extreme circumstances it can be life threatening, and some patients have an increased risk of bowel cancer.
The symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, bloody diarrhoea and weight loss.
Treatments include drugs to try to "damp down" the inflammation in the cells lining the colon - including steroid tablets, which can cause further health problems.
Most patients do not have symptoms all the time, but instead have problem periods followed by intervals of "remission".
A team of researchers from Leicester Royal Infirmary tested the effect of EGF on patients who were suffering symptoms.
The chemical was given via an enema alongside standard anti-inflammatory treatment, and these patients were compared to another group given a dummy enema instead.
The results were encouraging - virtually all patients who received EGF went into remission, while many of those in the "placebo" group did not.
The beneficial effect often persisted for several months after the therapy had stopped, while symptoms often returned swiftly in the other group.
There were virtually no side-effects to the treatment - conventional ulcerative colitis treatments can cause unpleasant side-effects.
Professor Ray Playford, one of the researchers involved in the study, said: "Ulcerative colitis is a very difficult disease to live with.
"We've been working on finding alternative therapies to treat the condition and are delighted with the results of this latest trial.
"Long-term use of some of the standard therapies such as high dose steroids can result in serious side-effects, such as diabetes and osteoporosis, so there is an urgent need for new approaches.
"All the patients who were given EGF noticed relief from symptoms within two weeks of starting the treatment, a remarkably rapid improvement for patients with such distressing symptoms."
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.