Human body's newest, largest organ may facilitate cancer spread
How much more is there to discover?
With scientific advances occurring at a rapid pace, you might think that humanity would have figured everything by now. However, this is not the case – many a time, there are things to discover literally right under our own noses! Recently, scientists identified a newly discovered organ in the human body – possibly the largest and most overlooked one.
The newly discovered organ in the human body
Scientists have always observed this ‘new organ’ and documenting them in scientific literature. However, it was only recently that they observed it live and containing multiple fluid-filled spaces.
The intersitium is a collection of fluid filled spaces surrounding various organs, including the skin, lungs, gut, and others. This network of fluids connect with one another, forming a fluid-filled network, with structural support from proteins. One of the largest organs in the human body, it accounts for 20% of the total fluid volume of the human body.
The interstitium drains into the lymph node, where white blood cells fight infections. Since the interstitium covers organs that constantly move, scientists think that it acts as a shock absorber for all organs.
Dr. Michael Nathanson, chief of the digestive diseases section at Yale University School of Medicine, said the study was “a completely new concept.” It is therefore no surprise that the media purports the interstitium as a ‘newly discovered organ in the human body’.
How did scientists miss it in the first place?
Unfortunately, so far scientists have been studying cells by drying them out in chemicals, which would have drained the fluid and made the interstitium invisible.
However, the authors of the paper used a different method. Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center medics Dr David-Carr Locke and Dr Petros Benias were examining possible signs of cancer from a patient’s bile duct via an endoscopy. This is a procedure that involves inserting a thin camera into a person’s gut.
Both medics identified the cavities as a structure unknown to scientific literature. They approached Dr. Neil Theise, a professor of pathology at New York University Langone School of Medicine, for his expertise.
The scientists then used a special type of laser microscopy to see live cells. Seeing the fluid nature of this the interconnected cavities in the tissue layer, the scientists deduced from their findings that it could act as a ‘shock absorber’.
Learning from their mistakes, researchers froze the biopsy tissue samples rfrom 12 patients to further study the interstitium. Not chemically treating the samples retained the anatomy of the newly discovered organ in the human body.
Future implications for health
Severe cases of cancer occur when tumours spread to other organs of the body via other biological systems, such as blood vessels and lymphatic fluid. Since the interstitium transports fluid rapidly around the body, scientists speculate that tumours could use it to spread between healthy organs via the lymphatic system.
“Once they get in, it’s like they’re on a water slide,” Theise said. “We have a new window on the mechanism of tumor spread.”
If this is true, there may be further applications in the future. For instance, in their original report, the authors highlight the possibility of using interstitial fluid as a diagnostic tool to test for cancer.
However, further research needs to be done to ascertain the significance of this organ. Until then, we can only speculate at what other mysteries we have yet to uncover.