Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Discovering the Tubarial Glands


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Tubarial glands

Mains level: Not Much

Researchers from the Netherlands have discovered a new location of salivary glands.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With references to the scientific progress of ancient India, which of the statements given below are correct?

  1. Different kinds of specialized surgical instruments were in common use by 1st century AD.
  2. Transplant of internal organs in the human body had begun by the beginning of 3rd century AD.
  3. The concept of sine of an angle was known in 5th century AD.
  4. The concept of cyclic quadrilaterals was known in 7th century AD.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 and 4 only

(c) 1, 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Tubarial Glands

  • The salivary gland system in the human body has three paired major glands and over 1,000 minor glands that are spread throughout the mucosa.
  • These glands produce saliva necessary for swallowing, digestion, tasting, mastication and dental hygiene.
  • When researchers were studying scans from about 100 people, they found a bilateral structure at the back of the nasopharynx and these glands had characteristics of salivary glands.
  • Researchers have proposed the name “tubarial glands” for their discovery.
  • The researchers believe that these glands would qualify as the fourth pair of major salivary glands.
  • The proposed name is based on their anatomical location; the other three glands are called parotid, submandibular and sublingual.

Why are these glands being discovered only now?

  • The location of these glands is at a poorly accessible anatomical location under the base of the skull, which is an area that can only be visualized using nasal endoscopy.
  • Further, conventional imaging techniques such as a CT scan, MRI and ultrasound have not allowed the visualization of these glands.
  • For the scans done on the 100 patients, a new type of scan called the PSMA PET/CT scan was used, which was able to provide the high sensitivity and specificity required to detect these glands.

What is the purpose of these glands?

  • So far, researchers suspect that the physiological function of the glands is to moisten and lubricate the nasopharynx and the oropharynx.
  • However, this interpretation needs to be confirmed with additional research.

Significance of this discovery

  • The discovery is potentially good news for some cancer patients with head and neck cancers.
  • Patients with head and neck cancers and tumours in the tongue or the throat are treated with radiation therapy that can damage the new salivary glands, whose location was not previously known.
  • Oncologists will be able to circumvent these areas and protect them from the side effects of radiation which can lead to complications such as trouble speaking, swallowing and speaking.
  • Some patients may even face an increased risk of caries and oral infections that can significantly impact their life.

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