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Scientists ‘Discover’ New Organ Hidden in the Human Body

How can there still be organs left in the human body to discover? Well, judging from the history of science, it’s because our our methods for analyzing and identifying the many different systems and networks within the body have improved. Think about it: we’ve only been chopping up and poking at the human body for a few centuries. Well, in a scientific sense anyway, not in the destroy-your-enemies-and-eat-their-dismembered-bodies sense. The discovery of DNA is less than a century old, while imaging technologies like magnetic resonance imaging are only a few decades old. Put into context, these relatively recent but groundbreaking advances show how we’re still only beginning to understand the complexities of the human body.

Even more mysteries lie within the folds of the human brain.

Case in point: a team of physicians has just published a study of what they claim is an organ of the human body which has been completely ignored by medical science until now. They’re calling the organ the interstitium, and describe it as a dense layer of connective tissues found throughout and surrounding nearly the whole body, or a “widespread, macroscopic, fluid-filled space within and between tissues.” The organ was discovered through analyzing frozen body tissues, allowing this fluid-filled layer to retain its form unlike the flat, desiccated samples used in microscopy:

Freezing biopsy tissue before fixation preserved the anatomy of this structure, demonstrating that it is part of the submucosa and a previously unappreciated fluid-filled interstitial space, draining to lymph nodes and supported by a complex network of thick collagen bundles. We observed similar structures in numerous tissues that are subject to intermittent or rhythmic compression, including the submucosae of the entire gastrointestinal tract and urinary bladder, the dermis, the peri-bronchial and peri-arterial soft tissues, and fascia.

If confirmed, the intersitium would become the 80th known organ of the human body. The researchers believe the interstitium serves as a sort of ‘shock absorber’ which helps cushion muscles and organs from impacts or compression due to the movement of the body, while also playing a much more negative role in allowing cancers to metastasize more quickly since the interstitium is connected to the lymphatic system.

Illustration by Jill Gregory, Mount Sinai Health System, licensed under CC-BY-ND.

Illustration by Jill Gregory, Mount Sinai Health System, licensed under CC-BY-ND.

On a strange note, the researchers claim the interstitium generates a small electrical current as the body moves, which they note might explain the effects of acupuncture. Will the discovery of this new organ lead to new forms of therapy?