May 10, 2007
Fistula: a surgical opening made into a cavity or hollow organ of a human or animal.
Scientists use portholes or fistulas in the side of cows into their stomachs to get realtime access to the cows digestive system. Surprisingly the cows can live for a long time with a permanent hole in their stomachs.
Using fistulation and cannulation techniques, researchers have the ‘unique’ opportunity to prolong the cow’s life and longevity in a dairy herd. In the past researchers were able to test the feed that was fed to a cow in macroscopic experiments; attaining samples from the feed fed, and that which was excreted, but now they are able to test the digestibility and absorption of different feed commodities in the rumen through the porthole in the cow’s digestive system, the fistula.
Humans have also had fistula’s into their stomachs. One of the first recorded was a French Canadian named Alexis St. Martin. He sustained a life-threatening musket wound in 1822, and was marked a terminal case by his physician. However, he managed to survive and largely heal. He was mostly functional again within two years – except for a hole in his stomach that would never close. Through this hole doctors were able to examine inner workings of his stomach.