A new organ has been discovered that has existed in the digestive system for hundreds of years.
For centuries it was thought that the mesentery was a fragmented collection of folds in the membrane lining the abdominal cavity. But now doctors have said that it is a distinct, continuous organ, which could change the way diseases of the digestive tract are understood.
Named as the mesentery, the organ connects the intestine to the abdomen and had for hundreds of years been considered a fragmented structure made up of multiple separate parts until J Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick in Ireland, published a paper in 2012 arguing otherwise..
Leonardo da Vinci was the first to characterize the mesentery in a drawing from about 1508. One of the first anatomical textbooks to include the mesentery as a fragmented structure was by the anatomy Henry Gray, in the first edition of the well-known medical textbook Gray’s Anatomy.
However, researchers led by J Calvin Coffey, professor at University of Limerick (Ireland), describe the mesentery as an undivided structure and outlined the evidence for categorizing the mesentery as an organ in the paper published in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
As well as having a structural role, the mesentery is thought to play a role in the immune system and as a store for abdominal fat. Although its function is still unclear, the discovery opens up “a whole new area of science,” according to Coffey, who first discovered it.
Mesentery is a fold of the peritoneum which attaches the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, spleen, and other organs to the posterior wall of the abdomen.
During the initial research, the researchers found that the mesentery, which connects the gut to the body, was one continuous organ.
Better understanding and further scientific study of the mesentery could lead to less invasive surgeries, fewer complications, faster patient recovery and lower overall costs.
“When we approach it like every other organ… we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of this organ,” he said.
“Now we have established anatomy and the structure. The next step is the function. If you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease. Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science.”
Following its reclassification, medical students are now being taught that the mesentery is a distinct organ.