Appendix is important organ in human body immunity, new research

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd December 2015

SurgeryAustralian and French scientists working in collaboration have found that the human Appendix is not as useless as previously thought.


The scientists discovered that a network of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) protect the gastro-intestinal system and allow it to perform its task as a natural container of ‘good’ bacteria. The right amount of ‘good bacteria’ is required to help the digestive system recover from food illness such as poisoning.


Despite many people believing the appendix plays no role in the body’s functioning, researcher Professor Gabrielle Belz of Melbourne’s renowned Walter and Eliza Hall Institute said the findings show that the organ deserves greater acknowledgement for its functions.


“Popular belief tells us that the appendix is a liability,” said Professor Belz.


“Its removal is one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, with more than 70,000 operations each year. However, we may wish to rethink whether the appendix is so irrelevant for our health,” she said.


Professor Belz also stated that having a healthy appendix might save people from having to take more extreme options for repopulating or ‘balancing out’ their microbiomes.


“In certain cases, people require reseeding of their intestines with healthy bacteria by faecal transplant – a process where intestinal bacteria is transplanted to a sick person from a healthy individual,” Professor Belz said.


“Our research suggests ILCs may be able to play this important part in maintaining the integrity of the appendix,” she added.


“We found ILCs are part of a multi-layered protective armoury of immune cells that exist in healthy individuals. So even when one layer is depleted, the body has ‘back ups’ that can fight the infection,” she stated.


“In people who have compromised immune systems – such as people undergoing cancer treatment – these cells are vital for fighting bacterial infections in the gastrointestinal system. This is particularly important because ILCs are able to survive in the gut even during these treatments, which typically wipe out other immune cells,” Professor Belz said.


Professor Belz has previously shown that diet, such as the proteins in leafy green vegetables, could help produce ILCs.


“ILCs are also known to play a role in allergic diseases, such as asthma; inflammatory bowel disease; and psoriasis,” she said.


“So it is vital that we better understand their role in the intestine and how we might manipulate this population to treat disease, or promote better health,” she said.


The research was published on 1 December 2015 in Volume 16, Issue No. 12 of Nature Immunology journal. Scientists from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne headed by Professor Gabrielle Belz and the Centre d’ Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy headed by Professor Eric Vivier conducted the research.