Arstechnica – For more than a century, doctors have regarded the folds of flesh that hold our intestines in place as snippets of an elaborate support structure—convoluted, but not much to talk about. Yet when a pair of Irish researchers took a closer look recently, they found that it’s actually one continuous fatty membrane, possibly constituting a whole new functional organ: the mesentery.
If the reclassification gets adopted by the medical field at large, it would bring the human body’s organ tally to 79 (by most counts).
The mesentery, a ruffled and folded flap around the intestines, reaches from the base of the stomach down to the rectum. For support, it latches to the abdominal wall and the area of the backbone. Its most obvious purpose is to keep our guts from slipping and sliding around. But, the Irish researchers, J Calvin Coffey and D Peter O’Leary of the University of Limerick, suggest that the new organ may have other roles, including shuttling white blood cells around the intestines.
Doctors and researchers aren’t sure, of course, because up until now the mesentery has been largely overlooked.
“It was regarded as fragmented, present here, absent elsewhere and a very complex structure,” Coffey said in a press release. But, he added, “the anatomic description that had been laid down over 100 years of anatomy was incorrect. This organ is far from fragmented and complex. It is simply one continuous structure.”
Coffey and O’Leary published their clarification of the structure and discussion of its possible roles in a November issue of The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Coffey is hopeful that dubbing it an organ will raise new research questions—not just what the organ does generally, but what role it may play in diseases and possibly even treatments.
“Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science—the basis for a whole new area of science,” Coffey said.
While it’s unclear if mesenteric research will catch on with others in the medical community, the mesentery will likely be getting a little more attention regardless. In the latest issue of one of the most famous medical textbooks, the 41st edition of Gray’s Anatomy, the mesentery’s description has already been updated to note that it is indeed one continuous structure.