Although it may look like a snake or a large earthworm, the ringed caecilian is actually an amphibian. The South American animal's interesting features go beyond its appearance, however. According to recent research, it may lead us to new treatments for cirrhosis.

A potentially fatal disease, cirrhosis occurs when damage to the liver causes it to become scarred – that damage can be the result of problems such as chronic alcoholism or hepatitis. The scarring compromises the organ's ability to perform its vital functions, including detoxification and cleaning of blood. Typically the damage can't be reversed, and a liver transplant is often necessary.

That's where the caecilian comes in.

When scientists from the University of Surrey (UK), the Federal University of São Paulo and the Butantan Institute in Brazil analyzed its liver function, they discovered cells known as melanomacrophages. These break down collagen, which is the major ingredient in scar tissue. The melanomacrophages also engulf basophils, which are a type of white blood cell associated with inflammation and scarring.

"We do need further in-depth investigations into how this discovery could be translated into humans, but it may have the potential to alter how we view and treat this disease," says Surrey's Dr. Augusto Coppi. "We are constantly amazed by nature, and this particular and not-well-studied species of amphibian could help us find a way to stop or even reverse liver cirrhosis."

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Anatomy.