Science Update: A New Organ in the Abdomen
I love science and the fact that it is constantly changing as we learn more. However, it’s still a bit of a shock to learn that researchers have recently determined that we actually have another organ in our digestive system that we hadn’t realized before. It’s not as if this new organ was hiding – it was actually in plain sight. Doctors just didn’t recognize it as a proper structure.
The new organ is the mesentery. You may have heard of the mesentery before, however this classification is new. Prior to recent research, the mesentery was considered tissue that was made up of a fold of the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. Now, Dr. J. Calvin Coffey, a professor and surgeon at University of Limerick in Ireland has discovered that the mesentery is not fragmented, as previously thought, but is one continuous organ.
Structure is Known but Function to be Determined
With the publication of a paper in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet, the structure of this new organ is now accepted in science circles. Although the structure of the organ is known, researchers have yet to determine the mesentery’s function. Studying it could provide a better understanding of many abdominal and digestive diseases, as well as providing new clues for treatment options.
Dr. Coffey has established with his research that the mesentery provides an important structure for the intestines, carrying blood and lymphatic fluid between the rest of the body and the intestines. It also maintains the position of the intestines and is connected along the entire length of the small and large intestines. Without it, the intestines would have to attach to the body wall and would have less flexibility to contract and relax, or they might collapse into the pelvis when you stand. Coffey has found that the mesentery plays an important role in the intestinal, vascular, endocrine, cardiovascular and immunological systems, but more research is needed to determine exactly how the mesentery fits in with these systems.
What Does This Mean for People with IBS?
The classification of a new organ with such close ties (literally) to the intestines is a huge revelation for those who suffer with digestive difficulties. It opens up a new area of research as doctors seek to learn about the function, as well as dysfunction, of the mesentery. A better understanding of the mesentery could lead to the identification of the mechanisms that lead to conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, or colorectal cancer. While it’s too early to tell what it will mean for those of us with IBS, this new discovery provides renewed energy into the research field and may provide clues on the development of IBS or potential new treatments.
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