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Current Affairs

New organ discovered in the throat

Date: 23 October 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Scientists have discovered a new organ: a set of salivary glands set deep in the upper part of the throat. 

 

Background

This is good news for patients with head and neck tumours as radiation oncologists will be able to bypass this area to avoid any complications during treatment.

 

Details

  • When researchers were investigating the side-effects of radiation on the head and neck, they found two “unexpected” areas that lit up in the back of the nasopharynx. These areas looked similar to known major salivary glands.

  • The salivary gland system in the human body has three paired major glands and over 1,000 minor glands that are spread throughout the mucosa.

  • These glands produce saliva necessary for swallowing, digestion, tasting, mastication, and dental hygiene. Scientists a bilateral structure at the back of the nasopharynx and these glands had characteristics of salivary glands.

  • Researchers have proposed the name “tubarial glands” for their discovery. Even so, it is not clear yet if these glands will be classified as a conglomerate of minor glands, as a major gland, a separate organ or a new part of an organ system.

  • The researchers believe that these glands would qualify as the fourth pair of major salivary glands. The proposed name is based on their anatomical location, the other three glands are called parotid, submandibular, and sublingual.

  • Researchers note that the location of these glands is at a poorly accessible anatomical location under the base of the skull, which is an area that can only be visualised using nasal endoscopy.

  • Researchers suspect that the physiological function of the glands is to moisten and lubricate the nasopharynx and the oropharynx, but this interpretation needs to be confirmed with additional research.

  • Patients with head and neck cancers and tumours in the tongue or the throat are treated with radiation therapy that can damage the new salivary glands, whose location was not previously known.

  • The major salivary glands whose location is already known are regarded as organs-at-risk while conducting radiation therapy and need to be spared, researchers note.

  • The next step is for researchers to find out how to avoid delivering radiation to these newly discovered glands so that patients experience less side effects and lead a better quality of life.