May 30, 2024

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NEJM: Scientists Unveil Crucial Role of Thymus in Adult Health

NEJM: Scientists Unveil Crucial Role of Thymus in Adult Health



 

NEJM: Scientists Unveil Crucial Role of Thymus in Adult Health.

The thymus, once thought to be functionless in adult bodies, has been shown to play a significant role in maintaining adult health, according to a recent study published in the International Journal, New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers from institutions including Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered evidence suggesting that the thymus is not only essential for generating immune T cells before birth and during childhood, but also has a preventive role against cancer and autoimmune diseases in adults.

 

NEJM: Scientists Unveil Crucial Role of Thymus in Adult Health

 

To ascertain the potential health benefits of the thymus in adults, scientists studied 1146 adults who underwent thymus removal during surgery and matched them with 1146 control patients who underwent similar heart-related surgeries without thymus removal.

They analyzed the risks of death, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, along with measuring T cell production and immune-related molecules in subsets of patients.

 

The study revealed that five years after surgery, the mortality rate among thymus-removed patients was 8.1%, compared to 2.8% among those with intact thymus.

This represented a 2.9-fold increase in mortality risk. Similarly, within the same period, 7.4% of thymus-removed patients developed cancer, while only 3.7% of the control group developed cancer, indicating a twofold increased risk. Dr. David T. Scadden stated that their research on thymus-removed patients highlighted the essential nature of the thymus for overall health.

The absence of the thymus increased the risk of death and cancer by at least twofold, emphasizing the need for careful consideration before performing thymus removal surgeries.

 

In an extended analysis involving thymus-removed patients over a follow-up period of more than 5 years, researchers found that the overall mortality rate in this group was higher than that of the general U.S. population (9.0% vs. 5.2%), and the cancer mortality rate was also elevated (2.3% vs. 1.5%). While the study did not observe substantial differences in autoimmune disease risk between the thymus-removed and control groups, the exclusion of patients with pre-existing infections, cancer, or autoimmune diseases from the analysis revealed a potential disparity.

After excluding these individuals, the thymus-removed group showed a 12.3% risk of developing autoimmune diseases, compared to 7.9% in the control group, indicating a 1.5-fold increased risk.

 

Analyzing a subgroup of patients (22 from the thymus-removed group and 19 from the control group) for T cell production and immune-related molecules, the researchers found that patients who underwent thymus removal had lower levels of ongoing T cell generation but higher levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in their blood.

The next step for researchers involves assessing how varying levels of thymus functionality in adults impact overall health, measuring relative thymus vigor, and determining whether thymus activity levels correlate with improved health beyond mere presence.

 

To summarize, the study unveiled that patients who underwent thymus removal exhibited higher overall mortality rates and increased cancer risks compared to the control group.

The association between thymus removal and elevated autoimmune disease risk became apparent when patients with pre-existing infections, cancer, or autoimmune diseases were excluded from the analysis.

 

 

 

NEJM: Scientists Unveil Crucial Role of Thymus in Adult Health

(source:internet, reference only)


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