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!