Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | February 21, 2013

Power to the Appendix

So it turns out that we are discovering that all kinds of previously thought “vestigial” organs have actual, useful functions. Tonsils and adenoids, yanked with impunity in ages past, have been discovered to be important parts of the immune system. And now it is time for the appendix to take center stage:

The appendix may not be useless after all. The worm-shaped structure found near the junction of the small and large intestines evolved 32 times among mammals, according to a new study. The finding adds weight to the idea that the appendix helps protect our beneficial gut bacteria when a serious infection strikes.


This conclusion was reached primarily as a result of anatomical studies comparing appendices of various species. Nothing really medical about it all. It occurs to me that the next step towards validating the hypothesis is quite straightforward, and not particularly involved or expensive. Additionally, because it can be done entirely via retrospective chart review, there isn’t even a smidgen of risk to patients.

I propose that someone review hospital records and see if there is any relationship between diagnoses of serious GI infections and appendectomy status. If the hypothesis is true, then patients admitted for serious GI infections would be expected to have undergone previous appendectomy more often than patients admitted for non-GI conditions.

I would love to do it, but some of us have to go see patients.

So come on, you ivory tower types: get cracking!



  1. I have heard more than one surgeon say that the appendix is indeed useful – it paid for his kids’ college education.

  2. I don’t have the cite, but I believe there is already at least one study finding that people who are sans appendix have more difficulty beating C.Diff. infection.

  3. It could also be that people who have a less than stellar appendix have more GI infections, and end up with appendectomies more often. Which could lead to two different conclusions. One is that the appendix is useless, but sub-optimal gut health lead to its infection. The other is that a sub-optimal appendix lead to poor gut health. That’s just one possible branch of all this. Add in the gut-related autoimmune issues and things get complex fast.
    Still an interesting and worthwhile research avenue, but not a straight line a to b research project. More like a first step down a long, interesting path.

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