Scientists have discovered a new organ in the body, and it may help to understand how cancer spreads.
Fluid-filled compartments underneath the skin, and lining the lungs, gut, and blood vessels, have been found to form a network researchers term the “interstitium”.
The role of this new organ, which is one of the largest in the human body, is unknown, although scientists suggest it may be to protect body tissues from damage.
The interstitium is formed of a mesh of strong proteins and had gone unnoticed because the traditional way to examine tissues—by draining away fluid—destroyed the organ in the process.
The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is the first time these spaces have been understood as a new organ.
Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center medics Dr. David Carr-Locke and Dr. Petros Benias discovered the new organ while examining a patient’s bile duct for signs of cancer.
They subsequently realised that the interstitium drains into the lymphatic system, which forms part of the body’s immune response—and that cancer cells from tumours could spread via the interstitium into the lymphatic system.
However, the new discovery could help scientists to find new tests for cancer.
“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, according to the Independent.