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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 18 August 2022

Humans have a new organ and it's thanks to surgeons in Limerick

The mesentery is now being classified as a single structure.

Source: TIME/YouTube

YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T heard about the mesentery but without it you wouldn’t be able to stand up.

Until recently, this six-foot long part of the digestive system wasn’t classified as a single organ in medical textbooks, but now largely thanks to surgeons at the University of Limerick it is.

Basically, what the mesentery does is keep your intestine in place in way that means it doesn’t have to be attached to your abdomen.

J Calvin Coffey, Professor of Surgery at the Graduate Entry Medical School in the University of Limerick, says you should be thankful for it every time you walk to the kettle.

“The small intestine has a spiral conformation and that’s important,” he explains.

“It’s determined by the mesentery because the mesentery attaches to the body wall in a spiral conformation.

What that means is when you stand up, let’s say want to make a cup of coffee, your intestine doesn’t fall into your pelvis and stop working. It keeps it in the right shape and keeps it suspended, it means we can all stand up.

The existence of the mesentery isn’t a complete surprise. Doctors have always known it was there but it was thought there were several mesenteries keeping your insides secure.

Instead, work by Coffey and his colleagues on patients who have had their colons removed was able to prove that it was one continuous structure.

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This idea was suggested as far back as Leonardo da Vinci, who drew it as single structure, but erroneous descriptions in the 19th century have until recently been repeated as dogma.

Medical journal The Lancet recently published the results of Coffey’s research and the mesentery has also now been listed as an organ in human anatomy textbook Gray’s Anatomy.

It’s not just for research though. Coffey explains that knowing the true make-up of the mesentery and its place in the digestive system could make for less invasive surgeries.

“The embryonic roadmap that the body was put together in, persists into adulthood,” he says.

So we can identify embryological planes and the network of planes. We can actually identify them, act with them and dissect along them. By doing that we can, almost bloodlessly, separate things along the planes that nature actually put things together in the first instance.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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