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Medicine Science

Major New Function Discovered For the Spleen 257

Posted by kdawson
from the more-than-just-a-metaphor dept.
circletimessquare writes "The spleen doesn't get much respect — as one researcher put it, 'the spleen lacks the gravitas of neighboring organs.' Those undergoing a splenectomy seem to be able to carry on without any consequences. However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone splenectomies. Now researchers have discovered why: the spleen apparently serves as a vast reservoir for monocytes, the largest of the white blood cells, the wrecking crew of the immune system. After major trauma, such as a heart attack, the monocytes are disgorged into the blood stream and immediately get to work repairing the damage. '"The parallel in military terms is a standing army," said Matthias Nahrendorf, an author of the report. "You don't want to have to recruit an entire fighting force from the ground up every time you need it."'"
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Major New Function Discovered For the Spleen

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  • What we don't know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:01PM (#28947469)

    Somehow, I always find it amazing the things we don't know about. We know the makeup of the universe down to a couple of percentage points. We know what subatomic particles do what, and have theories to predict other ones that have virtually no effect on our universe. We know when the sun is going to run out of fuel and have pretty accurate theories about what will happen to the solar system when that happens.

    Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:08PM (#28947561)

    Both are the sorts of organs we needed a long time ago, when infections and food poisoning would have been everyday occurrences, but not so much anymore. So it's no surprise that their functions aren't that obvious.

  • by rho (6063) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:09PM (#28947597) Homepage Journal

    Little advertised fact about science is nearly everything should be appended with "... according to current models," but isn't. Because then it sounds like scientists don't know anything. Which they do know something, at least according to current models, but the truth is complicated and sells poorly.

    Unfortunately, not enough scientists on the TV are this honest. Or they're not allowed to be. Whichever, it makes them look like chumps when they assuredly aren't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:10PM (#28947601)

    Somehow, I always find it amazing the things we don't know about. We think we know the makeup of the universe down to a couple of percentage points. We think we know what subatomic particles do what, and have theories to predict other ones that have theoretically virtually no effect on our universe. We think know when the sun is going to run out of fuel and have theoretically pretty accurate theories about what will happen to the solar system when that happens.

    Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

    Pardon the triteness, but "FTFY". We have no perception of anything on a cosmic scale, and we learn new information about what we think are the simplest things all the time.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:17PM (#28947717)

    Somehow, I always find it amazing the things we don't know about. We know the makeup of the universe down to a couple of percentage points. We know what subatomic particles do what, and have theories to predict other ones that have virtually no effect on our universe. We know when the sun is going to run out of fuel and have pretty accurate theories about what will happen to the solar system when that happens.

    Yet, somehow, we don't know the basic workings of our own bodies.

    At first blush I'd want to question our supposed knowledge of those other heady areas of knowledge. Of course, that's not entirely the case. I'm partial to the book a Short History of Nearly Everything [wikipedia.org]. If nothing else, it will help you appreciate how we came by certain bits of knowledge while missing other things.

  • Re:No problem. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by napalmfires (946900) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:29PM (#28947875)
    what idiot modded this insightful? it's a joke!
  • by R.Mo_Robert (737913) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#28947959)

    But this doesn't explain why the spleen was so difficult: what would I see if I looked at a slide of spleen under the microscope (or if more advanced equipment than my eye and a microscope did the same thing)? If not a noticeably larger proportion of white blood cells than elsewhere, why not (e.g., did preparation destroy them, are the hidden or stored elsewhere, etc.)?

    Clearly, something must have been going on for us not to have realized this sooner. (Or, perhaps, we've discovered only part of the story--it's happened a lot over history and still happens today, as much as we like to pride ourselves with our knowledge and technology.)

  • by Fallen Seraph (808728) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:55PM (#28948151)

    What we know are generalities. We know the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth via a mechanism called "gravity." Our knowledge of specifics is incomplete, to unstate the matter. We don't know what "gravity" actually is.

    Ummm, yeah, we kinda do. That's what General Relativity is all about, actually. Gravity is a product of the geometry of the universe (or more specifically, space-time) distorting around the presence of mass. This distortion can also occur in the presence of radiation and energy, due to mass-energy equivalency, as well as distorting due to linear momentum as well. It's really a remarkably elegant theory in my opinion, and it works fairly well, though we do encounter problems on the sub-atomic level, but that's why the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity is such a lofty goal. It'd give us a model of the universe from the smallest components of matter, to the shape of the universe itself. Just because you don't understand, or bother to research something, doesn't make it an unknown. That being said, this is the working model for our concept of gravity. We may find it incomplete in the future, but it's held up remarkably well to experimental evidence thus far, despite many of it's predictions being counter-intuitive. So we know much more than "a few details" but we're not certain yet, because we're still learning

    This is a good example of why, when people scoff at alternative medicine as junk because there's no scientific proof, I can only think that they are short-sighted and closed-minded. Certainly, there's a lot of mystical fluff, and it's generally less reliable than scientific medicine (but it's equally as reliable in the hands of a skilled practitioner).

    I have to stop you there. No, no it is not. The VAST majority of alternative doctors are swindlers and con-artists, or simply ignorant. Alternative medicines are also commonly psychosomatic, which is where many of the claims of "It works!" originate from. That being said, many modern medicines come from nature, and if the FDA wasn't worthless, they'd regulate the supplement and alternative medicine markets, instead of failing to even regulate just the pharmaceutical market. The problem with alternative medicines though is when people turn down medical care or treatment in favor of alternatives. This can get people killed, or exacerbate their conditions.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:57PM (#28948205)
    The obsession, is relatively reasonable. What isn't reasonable is the tendency to relegate still useful things into that category.

    The ability to wiggle ones ears is a pretty good example, unless you can do it, you'd never appreciate the help that is in figuring out where sounds are coming from. Sure it's not as useful as it was. Well, scratch that, with all the randomly beeping things we have in the modern era it helps one figure out where they are hiding.
  • $urgery (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @06:19PM (#28949301)

    As the owner of a vintage splenectomy (circa 1955) I can assure you that anyone missing a functioning spleen is at a great disadvantage combatting the normal toxins and viruses prevalent in modern life.

    In my particular example, the spleen was removed because it was enlarged, although, as it turned out later, not diseased. The loss of this organ did nothing to aid in my recovery, but rather considerably retarded it. My liver was also slightly abnormal, but luckily for me, no one considered that it was advisable to remove that organ.

    In the discussion of how undiscovered functions for minor organs are overlooked by hospitals and surgeons, one should not also overlook the profit motive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @06:24PM (#28949359)

    God is the grown man's Santa Claus. Sorry to break it to you like that.

  • by db32 (862117) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @08:06PM (#28950337) Journal

    scientists on the TV

    What scientists on TV? I suspect that if there were more scientists on TV we wouldn't be having half of the anti-intellectualism fueled debates that rage these days.

  • Re:Makes Sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @10:31PM (#28951457)

    Why not...

    Two hearts? difficult to coordinate two hearts. Also, chances are that if damage is extreme enough to destroy the heart, chances are that a backup heart wouldn't significantly boost the chance of reproductive success after that point. (Heart disease is irrelevant as it occurs after reproductive age.)

    Two brains? first of all, it'd be impossible to coordinate the actions of two brains. Second, the brain already has quite a bit of internal redundancy. Sufficiently young children with entire hemispheres removed can grow up normally. People who suffer multiple concussions can still switch in spare circuitry and return to normal capacity (at least until later in life [wikipedia.org].)

    Two mouths? Where would you put the second one, and what structure would you develop into it? Evolution doesn't allow an organism to develop a structure wherever it would be convenient, but only to modify existing ones to suit a new purpose.

    The kidney is a simple organ prone to infection and mounted in a vulnerable position in the body. I can definitely see how having a spare would increase the odds of reproductive success at minimum cost.

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