Researchers found a cluster of immune cells help the appendix keep the digestive system healthy. Findings support the theory that the appendix is not a redundant organ.

The study found that innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) play a crucial role in the protection against bacterial infection in patients with weakened immune systems. During a bacterial attack, ILCs inhibit damage and appendix inflammation. ILCs therefore keep the organ safe and enable it to be a natural tank where good bacteria are kept during a bacterial attack.

The study sheds light on how the appendix seems to be the digestive system's silent hero. The ILCs aid the appendix in dispatching 'good bacteria' into the body.

"A balanced microbiome is essential for recovery from bacterial threats to gut health, such as food poisoning," said Professor Gabrielle Belz from the Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

In Australia, there are over 70,000 appendix removal surgeries done annually, making it one of the most common procedures in the country. The study sheds a different light on the appendix's purpose. Belz added that a healthy appendix could even save patients from extreme procedures in balancing out the community of bacteria in the body, like fecal transplant. This process requires the transfer of intestinal bacteria from a healthy individual to a sick patient.

The team also found that ILCs belong to a multilayer shield of immune cells. In people with healthy immune systems, the body has a 'back-up' layer of immune cells that can protect it from infection even if one layer of the immune cells are destroyed.

ILCs are capable of survival in the gut even during extreme medical treatments such as chemotherapy. In cancer patients, ILCs play a crucial role in protecting the gastrointestinal system from bacterial infection.

"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," Belz added.

The research team was led by Belz and Professor Eric Vivier from the Centre d'Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy. The findings were published in the Nature Immunology journal on Nov. 30.

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