Maybe we have discovered a new organ in our head

Maybe we have discovered a new organ in our head

It appears to be the fourth type of major salivary gland, located in the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat. But further studies will be needed to confirm the discovery of a new organ

(Photo: Nhia Moua / Unsplash) After hundreds of studies on anatomy, the human body still seems to reserve many surprises. The latest, in fact, is the discovery of a new organ, which has so far remained hidden inside our heads. The doctors of the Netherlands Cancer Institute realized this by chance, while they were subjecting some of their patients to an innovative diagnostic test that allows them to view tumors in detail. As the researchers recount in the pages of the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, a mysterious set of salivary glands hidden inside the patients' heads emerged by chance from the examination, positioned precisely in the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat.
The salivary glands, remember, are involved in the production of saliva, essential for the proper functioning of our digestive system. Most of this fluid, as explained in all anatomy textbooks, is produced by three main types of glands: the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual. To these are added about a thousand minor salivary glands, scattered in the lips and internal mucosa from the mouth to the pharynx, so tiny that they can hardly be observed without a microscope. But now, according to the new study, there may be an extra organ - a fourth type of major salivary gland. “We have three large salivary glands, but not there,” explains Wouter Vogel, one of the authors of the discovery. “As far as we know, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small. So, you can imagine our surprise when we found them ”.

(illustration: Netherlands Cancer Institute) Examining a series of scans of 100 cancer patients, the researchers observed, using the innovative Psma / Pet / Ct imaging technique, that all had a pair of glands , so far never documented, very similar to the salivary ones: they are, in fact, connected to large drainage ducts, an indication that leads to think of a possible channeling of fluids. Data, therefore, suggest that these glands may be the fourth set of salivary glands, located behind the nose and above the palate, near the center of our head. “We call them tubal glands, referring to their anatomical position (above the torus tubarius),” explains Matthijs Valstar of the University of Amsterdam, co-author of the study.

The reason why they have remained hidden so far is not it is still entirely clear, although the researchers speculate that "their location is difficult to access and very sensitive images are needed to detect them." While more research on a much larger sample of participants is needed to confirm these findings, the finding could help explain why patients who undergo radiation therapy often report chronic conditions, such as dry mouth (xerostomia) and swallowing (dysphagia). "Since these mysterious glands were not known to doctors," comment the authors, "no one has ever tried to spare them from these treatments." But there are those who have been skeptical of labeling these new glands as a new organ. For example, Alvand Hassankhani, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times that there are over a thousand tiny glands, “so small they are hard to find. It is therefore possible that the Dutch researchers have found a better way to identify a series of minor salivary glands ”.

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