Scientists have identified a new human organ hiding in plain sight, in a discovery they hope could help them understand the spread of cancer within the body.
Scientists from New York’s School of Medicine have just announced the discovery of a new organ — and it may even be the biggest in the human body. So what is it and how has it remained unknown for so long?
Called the “interstitium”, the organ is mesh-like layer made up of collagen and fluid-filled compartments.
It can be found just under the skin, surrounding veins, arteries and the tissue between muscles, as well as lining the digestive tract, lungs and urinary systems. The organ was previously thought to be connective tissue.
It had been previously misidentified as scientists had only examined it on microscope slides, which meant the fluid was drained causing the compartments to collapse.
“These were the remnants of the collapsed spaces,” study author and pathologist Dr Neil Theise said. “They had been there all the time. But it was only when we could look at living tissue that we could see that.”
It wasn’t until the interstitium was observed as a “living tissue” during an endoscopy that researchers were able to discover its true form.
If researchers are correct, it could be the biggest of the 80 organs found in the human body.
According to EurekaAlert, the interstitium may act as a “shock absorber”, protecting tissues as other organs, muscles and vessels work away.
It’s believed the organ may also help cancerous cells spread throughout the body, acting as a “water slide” tumours.
“This finding has potential to drive dramatic advances in medicine,” Dr Theise said.
“This includes the possibility that the direct sampling of interstitial fluid may become a powerful diagnostic tool.”