Scientists Have Discovered A New Organ In The Throat By Accident
So, it gets a bit complicated, but the researchers had previously thought that the nasopharynx region behind our noses was home only to a number of microscopic salivary glands, but have now found a new set that are around 1.5 inches - around 3.9 centimetres - in length when looking for prostate cancer cells.
To use their fancy sound technology, the boffins at the Netherlands Cancer Institute injected a radioactive 'tracer' into the patient, which binds to the protein PSMA, which is increased in prostate cancer cells.
The happy accident of this was that the PSMA protein is useful for detecting salivary glands too, as they're high in PSMA as well.
That's when they discovered these new glands that - they assume - are used to lubricate the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
Exciting stuff, right?
After their initial discovery, the scientists decided to follow up by examining a group of 100 patients, all of whom were later proven to have the glands.
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They also looked at two cadavers and found that they had them too. This all means that it's fairly likely that we all have them.
It's interesting, because in the process of performing radiotherapy on cancers of the head and neck, doctors try to avoid the salivary glands because they can be damaged and leave patients struggling to swallow, eat, or speak.
However, they've been radiating this area for ages before the discovery of the glands, potentially leading some patients to experience side-effects.
Lead radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel said: "People have three sets of large salivary glands, but not there,
"As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small, and up to 1000 are evenly spread out throughout the mucosa. So, imagine our surprise when we found these."
He continued: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients.
"If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects, which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."
The new glands have been catchily named the tubarial saliva glands. This is because of their location, which is over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius.
Featured Image Credit: Netherlands Cancer Institute
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