The organ works as a shock absorber and researchers believe it could improve scientific understanding of cancer.
Scientists have found a new human organ using a technique for generating images from inside the body. The organ, which researchers named the “interstitium,” is composed of a series of compartment found beneath the skin, lining the gut, lungs, blood vessels and muscles.
In a study published in the journal Nature on Tuesday in the United States, 11 researchers show these spaces or compartments form a network supported strong (collagen) and flexible (elastin) proteins.
This is the first study to identify these compartments collectively as a new organ. The interstitium would be the 80th organ in the human body, and it affects all the other organs functioning as a “shock absorber” that protects body tissues and prevents them from tearing as organs, muscles and vessels compress, pump and beat.
Prior to this discovery, it was thought that the connective tissue underneath the skin and lining other organs was a dense layer. The study shows that it is actually a network of compartments filled with liquid. According to two of the lead medical researchers, Dr. David Carr-Locke and Dr. Petros Benias, traditional methods for examining body tissue had missed the interstitium because they rely on the use of medical microscopes that require draining away the fluid in the compartments, destroying the organ’s structure.
Scientists found the interstitium while searching for signs of cancer in a patient's’ bile duct. Later, by freezing biopsy tissue taken from the bile ducts of 12 more patients the team was able to preserve the anatomy of the new structure. They realised the layer drains into the lymphatic system, which they consider as evidence that cancer cells could make their way via the interstitium into the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for the body’s immune response.
Considering the new organ is like a freeway of moving fluid, researchers believe this finding might explain why cancer that invades this part of the body spreads faster and more than others.
They hope the discovery could “promote great progress in medicine, including the possibility of the interstitial liquid becoming a powerful tool in diagnosis,” researcher Neil Theise highlighted.