Researchers at the University of Limerick’s Graduate Entry Medical School in Ireland have reclassified a major gut membrane into a full-fledged organ, a recent review published in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology reports.
The structure is known as the mesentery. It is a large membrane that spirals through the gut and connects the small and large intestines to the abdominal wall. Though researchers have known about the organ for some time, it was previously thought to be several different membranes working together. The new research shows it is a single structure.
To investigate the organ, the team analyzed a series of past studies. This allowed them to look at the membrane by gathering a mass of information with which they could compare their own research.
For instance, throughout the 20th century, anatomy books described the mesentery as a series of fragmented membranes that were each associated with a different part of the intestines. However, more recent research that looked at the structure through colorectal surgery suggests the membrane is actually one solid organ. This is an important distinction because it could change the way researchers view the human body and lead to new research on mesentery-related diseases.
“[I]f you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease,” said lead author J Calvin Coffey, the Foundation Chair of Surgery at UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School and University Hospitals Limerick, in a statement. “Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science…the basis for a whole new area of science.”
For example, the mesentery’s continuous nature could allow certain diseases to spread across the abdomen. If such functions are better understood, new types of surgery and more effective medicines could be developed, Fox News reports.
Now that the structure has been upgraded from a membrane to organ, the team says many more features need to be described. In addition, its overall function remains unknown.
“This is relevant universally as it affects all of us. Up to now, there was no such field as mesenteric science,” Coffey added. “Now we have established anatomy and the structure. The next step is the function.”