One particular species of sea cucumber has been found in a lab to have compounds in its body that can kill liver cancer cells in humans.
So while the animal may look a bit like human faeces, scientists at the University of Philadelphia, USA, have discovered that it might also be able to save lives.
The creature could also help people recover from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.
The same chemicals that have been found to kill liver cancer cells might trigger the growth of neurites, which are small projections from neurons that can help people recover from these severe injuries.
There are a lot more tests scientists will need to complete before the discovery can be turned into treatments for people.
Experts will need to extract the compounds from the sea cucumbers and then test them on a number of different subjects in a lab, including on cells in a dish, on animals and then on extracted human cancer tissues.
The new study involved researchers at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, grinding up samples of the body walls and viscera (digestive system) of the sea cucumber to analyse them.
Follow Metro on WhatsApp to be the first to get all the latest news
Want to be the first to hear the world’s top stories? Metro.co.uk is now on WhatsApp sending vital updates and top trending stories straight to your phone.
Join the Metro WhatsApp community now for breaking news, juicy showbiz stories and must-watch videos from across our website.
Simply click on this link and select ‘Join Chat’. Don’t forget to turn on notifications so you’ll always be the first to hear the latest!
It can be tricky to navigate what’s where when it comes to sea cucumbers as they don’t have limbs, heads or faces.
But, through examining them, researchers have managed to discover a lot of different molecules that have potential for biomedical research.
They noted a set of lipid (fat) molecules called cerebrosides in particular, which are in both the body wall and the viscera.
And the ones identified ‘could also very well be’ the building blocks of sphingolipids, which are another sort of lipid molecule that have been found to have anti-cancer benefits, researchers wrote in their report, which was published on Wednesday in the PLOS One journal.
It’s been proven that, in a lab, sphingolipids can kill human liver cancer cells in dish and they can make neurons grow new projections.
Sea cucumbers are eaten traditionally through east and south-east Asia as they are known for their supposed health benefits.
There are more than 1,700 known species of the sea creature – but hardly any studies have looked at these individually to see why they might be good for you.
This is also not the first time the body wall of sea cucumbers have been a point of interest for consumer products.
The body walls specifically have been the subject of a lot of research into human skin care.
Made up of something known as ‘catch’ collagen, the fibers of the sea cucumber’s body wall are able to tighten and loosen at will so the creature can mold into tiny spaces or stiffen up in order to protect itself.
So this collagen, plus other components, from sea cucumbers are popular for us in skincare creams and other products.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at email@example.com.
For more stories like this, check our news page.