BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
To know others, you must know yourself. Who hasn’t heard that before? But that old proverb has just taken an interesting turn in January 2017, when Irish scientists led by Dr. Calvin Coffrey of the University of Limerick, announced the discovery of a brand-new organ in the human body after eight years of study. The discovery bumps up the number of known organs by 1, raising the count to 79. The latest edition of Gray’s Anatomy –the highly valued medical book, not the TV show – will include this long-lost organ in its latest edition due in 2017.
Before you start asking how the hell we could have missed this for two thousand years, know that this new organ isn’t so much a “discovery” as it is an “upgrade” of an already established piece of human anatomy. Scientists have dubbed this new organ the “mesentery”; this mass of tissue safely anchors your intestines, all 25 feet of them, to the wall of your abdomen, while also keeping the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, and spleen neatly organized. Artist, genius, and (literal) Renaissance Man Leonardo da Vinci first discovered the mesentery during his examinations into the human body, sketching the rather lumpy and inelegant mass in his sketches describing the digestive system. The mesentery was then largely forgotten for many years, dismissed as a mass of unimportant tissue rather than a “true” human organ. It would take another few centuries before scientists began another re-analysis of the mesentery, probing it for other useful functions it might fulfill in a healthy body.
In November 2016, Dr. Coffery and his team discovered that, in addition to providing vital anchorage for the intestines, the mesentery also serves as a conduit between the intestine and the rest of the body, transporting blood and lymphatic fluid to and from the tissues surrounding the intestine, keeping them healthy and well-lubricated so that they can do their job.
So how does one manage to go about turning a mass of tissue into a serious organ? The short answer: nobody knows. The long answer is more convoluted. While there is no serious council that reviews what is and is not an organ, scientists and physicians, spurred on by Coffery, recognize and respect the existence and the function of the mesentery as a serious organ, rather than just an organ wanna-be. In February 2017, Dr. Coffery seeks to make his findings known in Mesenteric Principles of Gastrointestinal Surgery, a book that seeks to clarify the history of the organ and surgical techniques that could come in handy as we seek to explore more about the history of our body. The discovery of the mesentery will doubtlessly help doctors and researchers as they work towards curing intestinal diseases and problems that plague the digestive system. So next time you eat a load of curry, make sure to thank your mesentery for keeping it all together – it’s just doing its job.