Life has a funny way of working out. In Vietnam, surgeons are under fire after leaving scissors inside a patient for nearly two decades. In Japan, on the other hand, three surgeons received praise for their good work. While removing a 16-year-old’s appendix, they noticing a tumor on the teenager’s ovary. What they found inside stunned them. The tumor contained greasy hair, skull bones, and a miniature brain.
Tumors that develop on ovaries are usually harmless. The doctors expected nothing special when they removed the nearly 4 inch long growth. After finishing the operation, they conducted a basic test to determine if the tumor was benign or malignant. However, the discovery of the unexpected elements inside convinced them to consult a specialist. Masayuki Shintaku’s study of the tumor revealed that the brain cells were organized in the shape of a cerebellum. That part of the brain controls motor function. Even more interesting, the miniature brain had the beginning of a brain stem, the connection between mind and spine. Development of the organ was advanced enough that electrical impulses could fire between the neurons.
While brain cells frequently appear in ovarian tumors, rarely do they contain evidence of an adult brain. However, despite the unusual growth inside of her body, the teenage patient reported no pain or health problems besides an inflamed appendix. In the handful of other cases where doctors found similar brain structures in tumors, the patients almost always suffered the same symptoms. Most prominent among these were memory loss, confusion, and high levels of agitation. Doctors found these symptoms are the result of the body’s immune system attacking the “foreign brain” growing on the ovary. Unfortunately, this defensive mechanism also attacks the patient’s real brain.
Following the surgery, the 16-year-old girl recovered fully. In all, around 20% of ovarian tumors contain foreign objects. This frequently includes teeth, fat, and muscle. Known as “teratomas,” these tumors take their name from the Greek word “teras,” which means monster. While still uncertain, scientists believe underdeveloped egg cells are responsible for creating the tumors. They are not the same as parasitic twins.
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