The remarkable discovery by J Calvin Coffey, professor of surgery at University of Limerick’s Graduate Entry Medical School, has already resulted in the rewriting of medical text books and the possible creation of a new area of medical science.
Prof Coffey’s research has led to the re-classification of the mesentery — a key part of the digestive system which connects the intestine to the abdomen — as an organ.
For well over a century, scientists and medics believed it was a fragmented, complex structure made up of several separate parts.
However, Prof Coffey found that it is actually one continuous structure — by definition, an organ.
He has outlined his findings in the November issue of one of the world’s top medical journals, The Lancet — Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“In the paper, which has been peer-reviewed and assessed, we are now saying we have an organ in the body which hasn’t been acknowledged as such to date,” said Prof Coffey.
“The anatomic description that had been laid down over 100 years of anatomy was incorrect.
‘This organ is far from fragmented and complex. It is simply one continuous structure.”
Prof Coffey, who is from Cork, said a better understanding and further study of the mesentery could lead to less invasive surgeries, fewer complications, faster patient recovery, and lower overall costs.
He also said mesenteric science is its own specific field of medical study in the same way as gastroenterology or neurology.
“Up to now, there was no such field as mesenteric science,” he said.
“Now, we have established anatomy and the structure.
“The next step is the function. If you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease.
“Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science, the basis for a whole new area of science.”
His research has seen one of the world’s best-known medical textbooks, Gray’s Anatomy, being updated, with medical students now learning about the mesentery as a continuous organ.