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What organ would you live without?

Let’s Dive In: How many organs can you live without?

It’s time for another episode of RTÉjr Radio’s science podcast Let’s Dive In! In this one Julie and Phil dive into the human body to find out how many organs you can live without.

Tune in to RTÉjr Radio at 7pm where we chat Tissue Handling Technician Hannah McGivern.

Julie explains it all here.

Every week during school terms Phil and his team welcome a group of kids into the UCD Explore Lab to get their science on with questions and experiments.

One week, when they were talking about guts and blood and the heart and other icky stuff, Mila aged 10 asked: «How many organs can you live without?»

Well, Phil said…I don’t know. So, we asked Tissue Handling Technician Hannah McGivern to help us out.

First of all, we need to know what an organ is. When we think about an organ, we have to think about the smallest building blocks we’ve got — cells.

«So we have trillions of cells in the human body. And groups of similar cells with the same job form tissues. And then if we have two or more types of tissue then we have an organ,» says Hannah.

Now, how many organs do you think we’ve got? Go on, have a guess. List them out on a piece of paper or just talk to your grown up about it.

«There are around 78 organs in the human body.» Wait, WHAT? Did you guess that? I certainly didn’t when I tried. Neither did Phil!

And this is because when we think of organs, we automatically think of those big «we-can’t-live-without-these» organs: brain, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, kidneys, bladder, intestines, skin. Those ones, the ones you draw at school and see in your biology books.

But actually, any groups of tissues are organs. Eyes are an organ made up of the lens, cornea and other bits! Teeth! An organ — part of the digestive organ system. Arteries and veins are organs.

OK, so let’s go back to Mila’s question: how many different organs can you live without?

«The kidney is probably the most-transplanted organ in the body,» says Hannah. So, you can live without one kidney (but you definitely need the other one!).

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«Some listeners may have had their appendix removed, may have had their tonsils removed…Other organs that you could live without are the Spleen gallbladder. You can also live without part of all of one lung.»

But it does get to a point where you might need medication or artificial replacements to help your body function, says Hannah.

What about flipping the question on its head: which organs can’t we live without? «The brain, the heart, the liver… we do need at least one kidney and we do need at least one lung,» says Hannah. «So, there’s five absolutely essential organs that we need.»

Whilst we were putting together this episode I had lots of fun playing Operation with my kids — so if you’re keen to play a game AND listen to this podcast, that’s a good one!

And whilst you’re at it, hit the subscribe button to make sure you don’t miss any of our episodes and so you can catch up with all the other ones we’ve done.

And don’t forget, if you’d like us to answer your question, send it to us via social, where you can ask an adult to contact Phil or Julie directly.

Make sure to subscribe HERE or wherever you get your podcasts!

AND read all the Let’s Dive In articles with experiments to try at home HERE!

Which Organs Can I Live Without, And How Much Cash Can I Get For Them?

First, a disclaimer: Selling your organs is illegal in the United States. It’s also very dangerous. Handing off an organ.

By Bjorn Carey | Published Aug 29, 2013 7:00 PM EDT

Ask Us Anything photo

Victor de Schwanberg/Photo Researchers

First, a disclaimer: Selling your organs is illegal in the United States. It’s also very dangerous. Handing off an organ is risky enough when done in a top hospital, even more so if you’re doing it for cash in a back alley. No, really: Don’t do this. OK? OK.

There are many organs one can theoretically do without, or for which there’s a backup. Most folks can spare a kidney, a portion of their liver, a lung, some intestines, and an eyeball, and still live a long life. That said, donating a lung, a piece of liver or a section of intestines is a very complicated surgery, so it’s not done frequently on the black market. And no one’s going to make much cash on an eyeball. “In the U.S., there’s a fairly steady supply of donated corneas from corpses,” says Sean Fitzpatrick, director of public affairs at the New England Organ Bank. “There’s pretty much no market demand for eyes.” Giving up a kidney, though, is a relatively simple surgery that has netted desperate people a few bucks.

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No one’s going to make much cash on an eyeball.

Now, black-market organ dealers don’t do a great job of filing taxes, but here are some prices based on rumored deals and reports from the World Health Organization. In India, a kidney fetches around $20,000. In China, buyers will pay $40,000 or more. A good, healthy kidney from Israel goes for $160,000.

Don’t expect to pocket all that dough, though. “The person giving up the organ only gets a fraction of the fee,” says Sally Satel, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank who studies the prices paid by legal and illegal organ-donor operations. After the organ broker—the guy who sets up your kidney-for-cash transaction—takes his cut, he needs to pay for travel, the surgeon, medical supplies and a few “look-the-other-way” payoffs. Most people get $1,000 to $10,000 for their kidney (probably much less than you were hoping for).

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The best bet is to wait until compensation for organs is legalized in the U.S.—the Organ Trafficking Prohibition Act of 2009 would allow payment to donors, but it stalled in Congress—because there’s certainly a market for kidneys. Last summer, a man offering one of his for $100,000 (plus medical expenses) on Craigslist received several offers until the Web site removed his post. And you could probably hold out for even more. In 1999, before eBay delisted a kidney put up for auction, bidders drove the price up to $5.75 million.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Popular Science.

Your Organs, Ranked by How Much You Need Them to Live

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When times are tough , strange thoughts cross my mind. Who are the voices in my head , and why are they so obsessed with hot dogs ? How do you talk to other people again? Which organs could I sell before my body gives out?

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Since I’m stuck inside my goddamn apartment with nothing better to do, let’s entertain that last question. Below, you’ll find a ranking of organs by how much you need them to stay alive, from vital to trash.

(Note that I asked a doctor to help me with this project, and all he said was, “I have 10 and need them all,” so even though you might not require all of them, hold onto your organs as best you can.)

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1) Brain: Arguably the most important organ in the human body, the brain coordinates your movements, allows you to think and feel, and holds your memories — everything that makes you, well, you. Because of that, in most of the world, a person is legally dead if they permanently lose all brain activity. Thanks to medical technology, like ventilators , your body could hypothetically be kept “ alive ” for some amount of time without a brain, but a lack of important hormones and an inability to regulate your temperature would eventually quash anything left working, too.

2) Heart: The heart is almost as important as the brain, since it pumps blood, which carries oxygen and other important nutrients that every organ needs to stay healthy and work properly. Traditional wisdom says the brain typically suffers irreparable damage when someone goes without a heartbeat for more than 20 minutes. On the bright side, medical technology has done a better job of replacing hearts than brains: A 25-year-old from Michigan lived a whole 555 days without one at all, thanks to an artificial heart pumping in his chest.

3) Lungs: Again, lungs are pretty damn important, because they bring in the oxygen your body needs to keep running, and every cell in the body requires oxygen to live. The advantage lungs have over the heart is, well, you have two of them and can live without one . And with the help of a respirator, you can live for some time without both, so long as you have a transplant coming.

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4) Liver: The liver performs more than 500 life-sustaining functions , including filtering toxins (i.e., booze ) from your blood, producing digestive enzymes, storing vitamins and minerals, regulating hormones and helping blood clot. Because of all these important roles, if you experience liver failure, you can only survive for a day or two .

The liver has a pretty handy mechanism, though: You really only need part of one to stay alive — some surgeons say 25 to 30 percent of your liver is enough to maintain its normal functions — and it can grow back to full size within a matter of months. So, you can sell some of your liver… maybe.

5) Small Intestines: The small intestines are what break down food from the stomach and absorb most of the nutrients that food provides. As the American Society of Transplantation explains , “Most people can live without a stomach or large intestine, but it is harder to live without a small intestine. When all or most of the small intestine has to be removed or stops working, nutrients must be put directly into the blood stream (intravenous or IV) in liquid form.” That essentially means you need to be hooked up to a drip feeder until you can get a transplant.

6) Kidneys: Kidneys perform a few essential functions: They filter your blood, prevent the buildup of waste and extra fluid and produce hormones that help your body regulate its blood pressure, produce red blood cells and some other stuff, too. The good thing about kidneys is, it’s entirely possible to live a perfectly healthy life with just one. And even if you lose both, you can be put on dialysis, which draws waste out of the body, and recent research shows someone placed on dialysis at age 20 can expect to live for 16 to 18 years. It’s very far from ideal, but a lot longer than you’d live without a heart or brain.

7) Stomach (and Large Intestines, aka Colon): As the American Society of Transplantation so kindly mentioned earlier, people can live without a stomach, despite how miserable that may sound. It’s sometimes surgically removed as a result of cancer or trauma — a teen in England, for example, had to have hers taken out after drinking a cocktail laced with liquid nitrogen — then the surgeons attach the oesophagus directly to the small intestines. If all goes well, you can eat a normal diet, accompanied by some supplements .

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8) Spleen: The spleen plays a part in your immune response: It stores and recycles red blood cells, and houses white ones. However, the spleen is fairly commonly removed as a result of trauma, and you can live comfortably without it, since the liver does a fine job of recycling red blood cells, and other parts of the lymphatic system are able to take over any immune functions that the spleen was previously handling.

9) Gallbladder: The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid produced by the liver that helps break down fatty foods. But too much cholesterol in that bile can produce gallstones, which cause all sorts of pain and internal trouble. Therefore, it’s pretty common for people to bid farewell to their gallbladder, through a procedure called a cholecystectomy , and go on to live a totally normal life.

10) Appendix: The appendix is a trash organ, because it almost only serves to hurt you. It’s believed to be a “ safe house ” for good bacteria of the bowel, but it’s quite prone to become inflamed when intestinal contents get trapped in there, which can result in appendicitis. This is why people have their appendix removed all the time and notice virtually no difference to their life, except less pain. And even then, if it’s not fully removed, problems with the appendix can come back and cause trouble all over again. So screw you, appendix.

Honorable Mention: While you can certainly live without your D or V — one study even suggests that men who’ve had their testicles removed live longer , arguing that “male sex hormones decrease the lifespan of men” — only you can decide whether that’s a life worth living.

Welp, my brain’s now telling me to go have a hot dog. See ya.

Ian Lecklitner

Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone’s favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.

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