In “Your appendix could save your life”(Scientific American, January 2, 2012),Rob Dunn reports
Parker’s idea, his hypothesis [that the appendix is a sanctuary for useful bacteria], predicts individuals with their appendix should be more likely to recover from severe gut infections than those without. To test this prediction, one could compare the fate of individuals with and without their appendixes after being experimentally infected with a gut pathogen. Easier said than done. Not even college students will voluntarily sign up for a dose of cholera, and lab rats, those time honored guinea pigs who never object to being poked, do not have an appendix.
There was one way forward… Scientists could compare the fates of individuals who suffer gut infections and have an appendix to those of individuals who suffer the same gut infections and do not have an appendix.
They found their opportunity with deadly C. difficile, which thrives in patients heavily dosed with antibiotics that have killed off the other bacteria:
James Grendell and his team were able to find 254 patients at Winthrop-University Hospital who met the requirements of their study. Each needed to be older than 18 with evidence of having been infected by C. difficile. The team then focused on the subset of patients for whom the presence/absence of an appendix was known or discernible.
And then, second, the big result…. Individuals without an appendix were four times more likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium difficile, exactly as Parker’s hypothesis predicted. Recurrence in individuals with their appendix intact occurred in 11% of cases. Recurrence in individuals without their appendix occurred in 48% of cases.
Of course, more research will be needed, but the Darwin lobby’s loss of a talking point could well be the patient’s gain if treatments for appendicitis can steer – so far as is consistent with health – away from simple removal as a surefire solution.
Would any organ that had not been labelled by Darwin’s men as vestigial – thus proof of their theory – have been treated this way?
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