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The mesentery: A 'new' organ you didn't know you had

Ashley Strickland | 1/12/2017, 6 a.m.
In case you've ever wondered what connects your intestine to your abdomen, there's a word -- and now, a single ...

— "In between, it fans out, like a Chinese fan, to span the length of the intestine from the upper small intestine to the end of the large bowel," Coffey said.

The latest anatomy and structure clarifications aid not only doctors, but medical students as well.

"For students, it greatly simplifies the matter of the mesentery," Coffey said. "This was traditionally regarded as a complex field. The current anatomic model is elegant and simple and will help students understand this structure. It will also provide them with a new perspective from which to view other organs in the abdomen. For example, we now know that the mesentery and intestine intersect along the entire length of the small and large intestine, whereas previously, this was though to occur in some regions only."

Improving surgery and treatment

More research will allow for better definition of the gut membrane's function, what happens when it functions abnormally and diseases that affect it. This also allows for mesenteric science to become its own field of medical study, like neurology.

Coffey hopes that creating a better understanding of the mesentery can help with diagnosing issues and less invasive ways of assessing them. Currently, its remote location in the body means the mesentery can be accessed only radiologically or surgically. This research lays the foundation for investigating possible prescriptions and how less-invasive endoscopic procedures during a colonscopy could map the mesentery.

Adopting a universal classification like this in the medical world has benefits that extend to standardizing surgical procedures, such as moving or cutting into the intestine. The mesentery extends from the duodenum, or first part of the small intestine immediately beyond the stomach, all the way to the rectum, the final section of the large intestine.

Because of this, it can factor into diseases such as Crohn's, colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or cardiovascular disease and major health concerns like diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. The more doctors know about the exact function of the mesentery, the more measures they can take to investigate the part it plays.

"For doctors, it provides us with an opportunity to refresh our approach to many diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and others," Coffey said. "This could help in identifying the mechanisms underlying these conditions and help us in unraveling their cause and how they develop."