Science

Scientists say they've discovered a new human organ

And they believe it could help understand how cancer spreads in the body.

You might not feel any different, but scientists claim to have discovered a new organ inside you.

Called the interstitium, this previously-unknown human body part is described as a network of dense, connective tissues with fluid-filled compartments.

Despite its chance discovery, the researchers say it is one of the biggest organs in the human body.

They believe it could help advance the understanding of cancer and many other diseases.

Hiding in plain sight, the interstitium was discovered during a routine endoscopy – a procedure that involves inserting a tiny camera into the gastrointestinal tract.

An illustration of the interstitium, is seen here beneath the top layer of skin.
An illustration of the interstitium, seen here beneath the top layer of skin (Jill Gregory/Mount Sinai Health System)

Two doctors at the Beth Israel Medical Centre – the Harvard Medical School teaching hospital in Boston – said they saw “something strange” while examining a patient’s bile duct in 2015 to look for signs of cancer.

What they discovered was a “a series of interconnected cavities” in a thin layer of tissue that did not match any known anatomy.

They took their findings to Neil Theise, a professor in the Department of Pathology at NYU Langone Health, who used a similar device to look under the skin of his own nose and found a similar structure.

Further investigation suggested that these patterns are made by a type of fluid moving through channels supported by a meshwork of connective tissue proteins throughout the body.

The theory is that this meshwork acts like a “shock absorber” which stops the tissues tearing.

The researchers said no-one saw this network before because scientists normally use traditional methods to examine human tissue – which involves slicing it and treating it with chemicals that drains away its fluids, causing the meshwork to collapse.

The team believe understanding the interstitium could be significant in diagnosing and tracking diseases such as cancer that spread throughout the body.

Prof Theise said: “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.”

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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