Did scientists really just discover a new organ in the human body?

Faith Castro
March 28, 2018

But scientists speculate that these useful properties could also work against us, allowing cancerous cells to spread throughout the body. According to the study, the connective tissue beneath the surface of the skin that lines the digestive tract, lungs, urinary systems, veins, and arteries is made of interconnected compartments filled with fluid and not a dense layer, as the science taught us in schools. Tissue samples placed on these slides are often treated with chemicals, cut into thin slices, and dyed to highlight their key features.

"Once they get in, it's like they're on a water slide", the study's co-author Neil Theise told New Scientist.

The researchers wrote that nobody ever knew about those spaces because scientists were accidentally collapsing those fluid-filled chambers when they took samples to look at under a microscope. The process of preparing tissue for examination involves draining away fluid and dyeing it, causing the meshwork to flatten like a pancake.

In the report, published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers provides an updated description of the interstitium, which is actually comprised of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments that are supported by a meshwork of flexible and strong connective tissue proteins.

During this study, the scientists used a high-end technology named "confocal laser endomicroscopy" which offers a microscopic view of living tissues. Much of the rest, about 20 percent of the fluid in the body, is "interstitial", a Latin word combining "inter", or "between", and "sistere", or "to place" - literally, "between the other places".

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"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", he said. "But it was only when we could look at living tissue that we could see that".

"We think they act as shock absorbers", Theise said, in New Scientist. When they attempted to investigate the apparent cavities using a traditional biopsy slide, they found that the pattern had disappeared.

Its true nature was realised during a routine endoscopy looking at a patient's bile duct.

Past technology meant that the appearance of these networks of fluid would not have shown on scans, and Theise and his team now believe that the discovery may be useful in cancer detection.

Once the researchers identified this new space in images of bile ducts, they soon recognized it throughout the body wherever tissues were compressed or moved by force. Minutes prior to clamping off blood flow to the target tissue, patients underwent confocal microscopy for live tissue imaging. "This space has both: unique properties and structures not seen elsewhere and functions that are highly specific and dependent on the unique structures and cell types that form it". Lastly, the protein bundles seen in the space are likely to generate electrical current as they bend with the movements of organs and muscles, and may play a role in techniques like acupuncture, he says. "But these were not artifacts", Theise said.

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