Year 2020: Climate Crisis, Coronavirus And A ‘New Organ’ In Human Body

The year 2020 has been full of surprises. Now, add a new set of salivary glands in your body to the list. Salivary glands are responsible for producing spit.

By  Jamshed Arslan 

Centuries of medical knowledge has informed us that we have 3 major salivary glands in our mouth, but now the scientists at The Netherlands Cancer Institute have challenged that notion. They found that we have a pair of previously unnoticed salivary glands behind the nose. They have named these new glands in our skull as tubarial glands.

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Accidental discovery

Funny thing is that the researchers were not particularly interested in anything behind the nose or upper throat. The team was actually studying prostate cancers. The technique they were using is called PSMA PET-CT scan in which doctors inject a tracer that binds to the PSMA protein. PSMA protein is elevated in prostate cancer cells and therefore, PSMA PET-CT helps in detecting prostate cancer and its metastasis. Interestingly, PSMA is also known to be high in salivary glands. That is what enabled the discovery of tubarial glands: the newly found glands lit up during imaging, just like the other well-known salivary glands. The conventional imaging techniques cannot detect tubarial glands.

What have the tubarial glands been doing in our body?

Salivary glands are known to waive off oral infections and tubarial glands might be playing a similar antimicrobial role. Likewise, tubarial glands moisten and lubricate the area where throat meets the nose, probably helping us to speak and swallow.

Tubarial glands: a ‘new organ’ or ‘a group of minor salivary glands’?

The region surrounding tubarial glands was thought to host several microscopic glands. Unless the researchers use normal healthy people, there is a still a chance that what the team is referring to as tubarial glands is just a group of minor salivary glands, rather than a ‘new organ’. Even if that is the case, the clinical implications of the discovery cannot be ignored.

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Why the ‘new’ gland is important for cancer patients?

People suffering from head and neck cancers often receive radiation treatment. Doctors try to avoid salivary glands during irradiation because if salivary glands are damaged, patients cannot properly eat, swallow, or even speak. In light of the current discovery, doctors will now avoid nasopharyngeal region where the tubarial glands are located. In other words, we can expect less side effects in those patients whose tubarial glands are spared during radiation therapy relative to the ones who do not follow the recommendations provided by the Dutch team.

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Future

The discovery of anything new in our body is fascinating. The future research on the subject of tubarial glands may focus on the healthy subjects from various identities. The reason is that the current research was primarily focused on men because prostate glands are present only in males. By including large dataset, scientists may provide us clues about our mysterious body. Tubarial glands are garnering public’s trust in science. It is the scientific breakthroughs like these that inform us how the universe really works!

Jamshed Arslan

Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology)

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