Autopsy Report

Scientists discover a new organ in the body – and it's not the first time

Human anatomy is riddled with controversies.

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The definition of an organ is contested, but generally, it must be self-contained and provide an essential function to the body.

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This strangely vague definition has created more than one controversy as scientists dive deeper into the body.

In recent years, new organs have been discovered.

Marc Rodriguez/Giphy

And new findings have elevated other structures to organ status.

September 2020

Scientists in the Netherlands report discovering a new organ in the head.

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Radiotherapy and Oncology

While screening 100 patients for prostate and urethral gland cancer, the team discovered two new salivary glands near the back of the nasal cavity. They also found them in two cadavers.

The team named them "tubarial glands."

Radiotherapy and Oncology

"We thought it wasn't possible to discover this in 2020."

-Matthijs H. Valstar, the study's lead author told CNN.

Radiotherapy and Oncology

The glands only became apparent because the scientists used an advanced type of scanning used to screen for cancers. They wouldn't have appeared using traditional CT or MRI scanning.

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Sparing these spit glands during radiation might alleviate uncomfortable feelings of dry mouth or difficulty swallowing, the scientists argue.

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Because the sample included only one woman, the scientists caution that these findings need to be confirmed in a bigger sample.

March 2018

A paper in Scientific Reports argued that scientists have been mischaracterizing a structure in the body once thought to simply be connective tissue.

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They argued that there's a thin layer of connective tissue that winds its way under the skin and around all our other crucial organs in the body. That tissue is filled with tiny, fluid-filled niches.

They called the organ the interstitium.

The network of fluid-filled cavities is anchored by collagen bundles (asterisks).

(The authors didn't use the word "organ" in the paper, but they did use that word in interviews).

The authors argue it the interstitium could serve as "shock absorbers" for other organs.

The network could also help explain how cancer spreads throughout the body.

ilbusca/Getty Images

These findings were controversial. Anirban Maitra a pathologist at the University of Texas Medical Center, told The Scientist ...

"Most biologists would be reticent to put the moniker of an ‘organ’ on microscopic uneven spaces between tissues that contain fluid."

November 2016

Scientists added a new organ to the club, based on new observations.

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For centuries, scientists classified the mesentery – structure that anchors the intestines in place – as a tissue, not an organ.

Mesentery shown in yellow above.

Digestive Surgery

In 2016, scientists in Ireland found that the mesentery was actually one continuous chain — not many disconnected pieces — when they examined cadavers and people undergoing surgery.

Leonardo DaVinci portrayed the mesentery as continuous in his drawings.

Those observations led them to reclassify the mesentery as an organ.

But it wasn't without controversy – and other experts objected to the reclassification.

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Even if we don't discover new organs in the future, smaller-scale discoveries are changing how we see our bodies.

We now know how cells die, and how to extend their lives.

Or how bones release hormones in response to stress.

The deeper we go, the more we find.

Explore the human body in even more detail here.

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