Scientists discover a possible new organ in the human throat

They find a possible new organ in the human body 1:03

(CNN) – It’s hard to imagine that there is a part of the human body that doctors have missed after centuries of medical research.

But that is exactly what a group of scientists from the Netherlands believe.

They said they have discovered a pair of previously overlooked glands that are hidden in our skulls where the nasal cavity and throat meet.

Medical researchers first found the part of the body, which they propose to name tubal glands, during a scan designed to look for tumor growths.

The scientists then looked at scans of the head and neck of 100 other people who were treating for prostate cancer and dissected two bodies, one male and one female. Everyone had a game.

The discovery was “exciting,” but the authors were “a bit skeptical” at first. So said the study’s lead author, Matthijs H. Valstar, a surgeon in the department of oncology and head and neck surgery at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

“We thought it was not possible to find this out in 2020,” Valstar said. “It is important that it be repeated and should be done with different groups of patients. It is important to have confirmation of new medical findings.

The glands cannot be seen with conventional medical imaging methods such as ultrasound, CT scans or MRI scans, the study authors said.

The ‘unknown entity’ was only identified when doctors used a new and advanced type of scan called PSMA PET / CT that has been used to detect the spread of prostate cancer. PSMA PET is the abbreviation for Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen Imaging Using Positron Emission Tomography.

READ: They discover the interstitium, the new “organ” that scientists had not seen (2018)

The salivary glands are clearly shown in this type of highly sensitive image.

“People have three sets of large salivary glands, but not there.” So said study author Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, in a press release in May.

“As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small. And up to 1000 are evenly distributed throughout the mucosa. So imagine our surprise when we found these.

Many great scientific discoveries “are a surprise, an incidental finding.” Said Joy Reidenberg, a professor of anatomy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

“Fortunately, these researchers were attuned to the data and adept enough in anatomy to notice the unusual glow in a region that was thought to contain no salivary glands,” Reidenberg added by email. “As the famous (late French biologist) Louis Pasteur once said: ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.'”

New organ?

This overview of the salivary gland tissues as seen in PSMA PET / CT scans depicts the known major salivary glands and an unknown structure (indicated by arrows) in the nasopharynx showing similar imaging characteristics.

View of salivary gland tissues scanned by PSMA PET / CT.

It was a matter of debate whether the tubal glands were a completely new organ. Or if they could be considered part of the salivary gland organ system, the study added.

“These findings support the identification of the tubal glands as a new anatomical and functional entity,” the study said. This was published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology.

The glands could be discovered recently, “but it is difficult to exclude that they may represent groups of minor salivary glands.” So said Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, interim chair of pathology at Rutgers New Jersey School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine. Fitzhugh was not involved in the study.

Because the study focused on a small number of patients who were mostly male and used specific rather than standard tests, he added, examining more women and healthier patients would allow for better data.

Overall, “there is still a lot to learn about the human body,” Fitzhugh said. And technology is allowing us to make these discoveries. This could be the first of some exciting discoveries within the body.

No matter how the glands are described, the authors said their discovery had clinical implications. Especially for head and neck cancer patients, including throat or tongue tumors. Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands, which can lead to a dry mouth and problems swallowing, speaking, and eating.

“For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location in the salivary gland system in the same way that we try to preserve known glands,” said Vogel.

“Our next step is to find out how we can best preserve these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience fewer side effects that will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment.