Meet the Human Organ You Didn't Know You Had

The finding could open up new possibilities for researching intestinal diseases.

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Jan 4 2017, 10:40pm

Calvin Coffey, D Peter O’Leary, Henry Vandyke Carter

Have you ever wondered why your gastrointestinal tract doesn't slosh around your abdomen like a bowl of ramen? Us either, but scientists have. And as of now, they've identified an organ that holds it all in place. The mesentery, as it's called, has brought the total number of human organs up to 79—or it will if it succeeds in getting designated as a true-blue organ, as scientists have recently proposed it should.

Like Pluto and Rodney Dangerfield, the mesentery has actually been around forever, it's just that it never got any respect. Scientists used to think it was just a series of connective tissues woven throughout the abdomen to help support other organs. 

Recently, however, researchers in Ireland published a study arguing that the sinewy tissue should be reclassified as an organ. This is partly because a closer analysis revealed that the mesentery, once understood to be disjointed, actually appears to be a singular entity that supports the small and large intestines by connecting them to the backbone. (An organ, by definition, has to be self-contained.) 

Adding further weight to the argument, the researchers note that the mesentery plays an essential role in human survival. "Without it, you can't live," J. Calvin Coffey, a professor at the University of Limerick Medical School and the study's author, told Discover. Apparently if your GI tract sloshed around your insides that would be a really bad scene. Scientists also believe that the tissue may play a role in transporting white blood cells throughout the intestines. 

While the pending classification may be new, awareness of the mesentery is super old. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci drew the mesenteric organ in the 15th century—as a continuous structure, no less. That line of thinking was challenged in the late 19th century, when famed English surgeon Frederick Treves claimed the tissue between two parts of the colon was not continuous. 

Apart from being useful bar trivia, the research could help advance intestinal-disease medicine. According to the study, doctors may now be able to achieve a better understanding ailments such as diabetes, Crohn's disease, atherosclerosis, and more, based on an improved understanding of the mesentery's function. 

"When we approach it like every other organ, we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of [it]," Coffey said in a press release.