Scientists have discovered an entirely new organ in the human body that could help unlock new cancer treatments. Previously understood to be connective tissue, the new organ is actually a string of fluid-filled compartments.
Scientists who discovered the new organ have called it the “interstitium”. Interstitium is found under the skin as well as around major organs, blood vessels, and muscles.
Research method prevented discovery earlier
The compartments are joined to create an extensive network that is held together by flexible proteins. This massive organ had remained unidentified for so long because the method of examining body tissues requires samples to be ‘fixed’ to microscopic slides in a process that drains away fluid and in doing so destroys the structure of the organ.
The new organ was first identified by Dr. David Carr-Locke and Dr. Petros Benias from the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center. The pair were investigating patient’s bile duct, searching for signs of cancer.
During the investigation, the scientists noticed cavities that did not match any other human anatomy descriptions. They asked New York University pathologist Dr. Neil Theise for an expert opinion on their find.
New organ acts like shock absorber
During this scientific collaboration, the doctors realized they had discovered a new organ, that was not only under the skin but also surrounding many important organs. They describe the new organ as having shock absorber type qualities.
To start to understand the function of the new organ the team designed a new method of tissue examination that involves the freezing of biopsy tissue, which helps preserve the anatomy of the organ. As their research unfolded they discovered the system drains fluid into the body's lymphatic system.
Interstitium may assist in cancer spread
The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune response. Although the new organ has the crucial role of cushioning internal organs, it seems it can also carry cancer cells from tumors into the lymphatic system causing cancer to spread through the body.
This groundbreaking discovery will open up new research methods into cancer diagnosis and treatment. Researchers will now focus on understanding the function of this organ more clearly.
Both within its shock absorbing capabilities and its potential role in spreading cancer through the body. “This finding has potential to drive dramatic advances in medicine, including the possibility that the direct sampling of interstitial fluid may become a powerful diagnostic tool,” said Dr. Theise.
Research methods review
The fact that a scientific research method was the reason that the discovery was not made earlier may also open up the possibility to review research and examination methods within medical research. “This fixation artefact of collapse has made a fluid-filled tissue type throughout the body appear solid in biopsy slides for decades, and our results correct for this to expand the anatomy of most tissues,” said Dr. Theise.