by Sabina Elkins
February 13, 2017 | Sciences
Every single day scientists around the world discover and innovate. The collective knowledge of the human race is a vast and daunting thing. Yet, sometimes it seems as though we know very little about the world around us, or even about ourselves.
For instance, in November of last year a new organ was discovered. Or at least, scientists were better able to find distinctions between neighbouring structures and therefore classify it as an independent organ.
This organ has been christened as the ‘mesentery’. It was discovered by general and colorectal surgeon J. Calvin Coffey at the University Hospital Limerick. He published a full research paper in a popular medical journal called The Lancet.
The mesentery belongs to the digestive system, and is located within the human abdomen. It is a folded portion of the peritoneum (i.e. the membrane that lines our abdominal cavity) that serves to attach our intestines to the walls of our abdomens. Or as Coffey puts it, “It keeps the intestine in a particular shape,” so that it “doesn’t fall into your pelvis.” Isn’t that a lovely image.
Despite the recent distinguished-organ-status of the mesentery, the structure was not completely unknown to scientists up to this point. Leonardo da Vinci was actually the first to ‘discover’ and record its existence; it is featured in his anatomical drawings from the 1400s.
Since then it has been featured in textbooks and other works but has never been highlighted as a discrete organ. Originating in the 1800s, the general belief until last year was that the tissues of the new organ were simply unrelated segments of peritoneum tissue. Coffey and his colleagues scraped away at layers of cells and determined that these isolated tissues were, in fact, connected. He then argued that the mesentery should be qualified as an organ due to its distinct role and specialized structure; the definition of an organ.
Why do we care? Well, Coffey says that “When we approach it like every other organ… we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of this organ”. This classification has enabled the new field of mesenteric science to form which will hopefully lead to new treatments and research for abdominal diseases.