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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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  • by 13bPower (869223) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:59PM (#28947443) Homepage Journal

    How could they miss that? I'm sure someone cut open a spleen before and looked at it through a microscope. Wouldn't you see an unusually high concentration of the monocytes?

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:07PM (#28947555)

    "How could they miss that?"

    Biologies obsession with vestigal organs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermiform_appendix#Vestigiality [wikipedia.org]

    Early evolution theorists figured the body would have a lot of "vestigal" organs that did nothing, the same goes for junk dna

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_dna [wikipedia.org]

  • is because in modern life, we just don't get beat up that much

    that is, early, more primitive man was probably getting the shit kicked out of him a lot, from the environment, and other humans. such that you needed a repository of monocytes at the ready for immediate damage repair a lot more often, as a survival advantage

    civilized more sedentary life, meanwhile, with all of the medical support that affords, means we could not easily see why removing the spleen had any jeopardy attached to it

    we can survive just fine, even without this organic built-in trauma preparedness kit, as long as we have trauma inpatient units at the hospital close by

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:15PM (#28947689) Homepage

    Funny, I always believed that the spleen was the center of the immune system. I got lymphoma (the AIDS of cancers) ten years ago, and I gave thanks that it was caught early enough that I didn't need to have my spleen removed, only a tumorous lymph node in my neck, followed by some radiotherapy.

  • Re:Makes Sense (Score:2, Interesting)

    by S7urm (126547) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:32PM (#28947921)

    I understand that, my point is that our bodies have some tendency to have organs perform functions that in today's world are overkill, i.e the fact that you can survive with only ONE kidney.

    I wasn't implying I didn't understand their function, or that I thought I could EASILY live without one of my kidneys, however I was commenting on how I find it interesting, that due in large part to modern medicine, and our diets, we can function, in some cases thrive, while missing entire ORGANS, I think that is "neat" and also makes me curious on how contaminated things like our blood and urine must have been to require 2 kidneys and other "non-essential" organs

  • by xant (99438) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#28947957) Homepage

    I knew there was something fishy about the logic used in the summary. Could we not conclude that unhealthy spleens are a symptom of an overall attribute of unhealthiness for that person? The fact that they die early doesn't tell you very much about the spleen's role in the death. By analogy:

    "However, some studies have suggested an enhanced risk of early death for those who have undergone bulletectomies after being shot with a bullet."

    You would not draw from this statement the conclusion that bullets were somehow important for life. :-) Not that I disbelieve the rest of the findings, but I think this is probably another gross oversimplification about the reason why we were studying spleens.

  • Re:No problem. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oneirophrenos (1500619) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:46PM (#28948061)

    what idiot modded this insightful? it's a joke!

    Modding jokes insightful is a subtle way for the mods to reward the poster of a clever joke with karma.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:54PM (#28948145)
    Not really, it's only in a relatively small part of the world where the appendix isn't that useful. Curiously, that's the developed world where there's also relatively easy access to apendectomies. But by population, the vast majority of people still need and use it. And even in the developed world, people do use it, it's just not as important with the easy access to probiotics.
  • IAAMS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xanthines-R-yummy (635710) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:00PM (#28948239) Homepage Journal
    I Am A Medical Student...

    You need all of the things you listed to live a normal life. Sure, you can SURVIVE without those organs but medicine/science have known for quite awhile now that losing your spleen makes you vulnerable to infections, which is why you typically get vaccines galore before removing it (vaccines aren't a replacement for spleens, btw; it's better than nothing!). I think anyone's who's had their gall bladder removed will tell you they wish they had a functioning one. It helps make your stool a lot more pleasant! While you can live quite awhile with only one kidney, there's evidence out there that kidney donors may have shortened lifespans. Your tonsils are lymph nodes which house immune cells.

    By your reasoning, it doesn't appear we need 5 fingers on each hand. We can surely survive with 4, 3, or even none. For that matter, might as well get rid of that pesky arm!

    There's a difference between being necessary for life, and being really really REALLY useful.

    /I kind of forgot what I was typing about.
    //Going to bed...
    ///I dream of slashies

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:08PM (#28948375) Homepage

    It was the classic 'Oh shit, I've found a lump' moment. Actually it was 2 lumps, one in my neck, which I foolishly ignored for a month, then a lump in my armpit, on the same side, which combined with a bad night-sweat (waking up to soaked sheets at 4am) got the alarm bells going. (These are classic Hodgkins Lymphoma signs, it turns out).
      The nasty thing about Hodgkins is that it is most prevalent in men in their mid 20's, just the age when you are least expecting out-of-the-blue health problems usually. It's pretty rare though at least, which is something. Plus I'm in the UK, free healthcare for all via the NHS, which encourages getting things checked out anyway I think.

  • Complexity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PleaseFearMe (1549865) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:14PM (#28948479)

    Our bodies are far more complex than a broad view of the universe. There are many interconnecting processes that all work together to use energy from our environment. The universe, ignoring the living things,can be described with far fewer vocabulary words than biology. While our bodies have a lower score on size than the universe, our bodies have a higher score on complexity, and it is complexity that makes a subject difficult. Once the GUT is found and fully understood, physics should be nothing but a small set of axioms. Biology is shaped through many many years of random events and chance encounters that cannot be quantified except with a vocabulary word.

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

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:34PM (#28948695) Journal

    Some people even have more than two. My grandfather has a third, smaller kidney that is fully functional.

  • New? Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @06:48PM (#28949637) Journal

    From PubMed, search terms 'spleen, function, monocyte, review' meaning it's only turn up review articles that cover collections of previous articles on the subject. Those research articles would be older, the reviews not so much. Still, 35 years is a fair bit of wallop to the "new discovery" claim, no?

    Clin Haematol. 1975 Oct;4(3):685-703. Mononuclear phagocyte proliferation, maturation and function.
    Territo MC, Cline MJ.

    The mononuclear phagocytic system is a continuum of cells beginning with the bone marrow monoblast and promonocyte, through the monocyte to the larger tissue macrophages and multinucleate giant cells. This system of cells is widely distributed throughout the body in the blood and bone marrow; the pleural, peritoneal, and alveolar spaces; the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and other parenchymal organs. The activity and composition of the cell varies with the level of maturation, changes in cellular environment, and with various cellular activities. The monocyte-macrophage group of cells plays an active role in defense reactions against certain microorganisms, and in the removal of dying cells and cell debris. They are an integral part of both the inductive phase of the immune response, and of cell-mediated immune reactions. In addition, they probably play a role in the defence against spontaneously arising tumours, in the control of granulopoiesis, and possibly in erythropoiesis.

  • I think that is "neat" and also makes me curious on how contaminated things like our blood and urine must have been to require 2 kidneys and other "non-essential" organs

    Remember that kidneys aren't only for filtering waste, their other primary functions are salt and bicarbonate recovery, pH balance (getting rid of excess H+ ions using phosphates and NH3 from the glutamine -> glutamate reaction), and water recovery. In fact, with the elongated Loop of Henle, one could argue that water retention in arid environments is one of the primary functions of the human kidney. They are very good at concentrating and getting rid of nitrogenous wastes while retaining important water, salts, and bicarbonate. This is probably a product of evolving in Eastern Africa. ;)

    Point being, having two kidneys is probably less due to toxicity of blood and more due to efficient water and salt recovery as organisms moved from aquatic to terrestrial environments. Just sayin'. :)

  • by MedBob (96899) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @09:58PM (#28951227) Homepage

    The process that you are speaking of is called Flow Cytometry [wikipedia.org].
    It's used often on peripheral blood.

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @10:22PM (#28951391)

    (Warning: original research)

    I've measured the frequency of organs are referenced in Shakespeare's complete works, including sonnets and other poems. The corpus I used was the World Library version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare available via Project Gutenberg. It doesn't mention whether these are folio or quarto versions, so the results are approximation. In each category, I included singular and plural forms as labeled below.

    (I'm not even going to try to cover Shakespeare's references to sex organs [google.com].)

    heart(s): 1208
    brain(s): 139
    womb(s): 56
    stomach(s): 59
    vein(s)/artery/arteries: 43
    gall: 36
    liver(s): 33
    spleen(s): 30
    lung(s): 19
    intestine(s)/guts: 17
    kidney(s): 2
    bladder/bladders(s): 1 [some mentions of bladder don't refer to the organ]

    Shakespeare thus appears to have had has anatomical priorities in order.

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