As much as we know the world around us, our bodies continue to surprise us with new discoveries and changes. Recently, researchers have uncovered a potential new organ within us.
As researchers and ancient doctors explored the human body to understand it and find out the problems that ail us, they slowly came to understand the anatomy of our bodies. The ancient Egyptians removed organs and kept them in jars for the afterlife. Nowadays, we take organs and preserve them in containers for a variety of uses.
Discovering and understanding our organs have contributed greatly to a better health for everyone. Richard Bright’s 1827 book “Reports of Medical Cases” showed us how kidney diseases were their own set of medical conditions and could be characterized based on many factors, including the health of the kidneys.
The new organ found this week, known as the interstitium, was found almost by accident after it was continually missed by everyone else. While there is some doubt about the legitimacy of it being an actual organ, it is an additional improvement towards our understanding of what is inside of us.
Discovering The Interstitium
Researchers from New York University’s School of Medicine published the findings on the interstitium in Scientific Reports after noticing the new organ in live samples.
The researchers found that the new organ was almost everywhere in our bodies as it surrounds things like arteries, veins, and muscles. It is even found in our digestive tracts and lungs.
The organ is a mesh-like network of fluid-filled collagen and elastin bundles that surrounds these many cell types around the body. Because of how we previously looked at these sorts of cells, it was assumed that the interstitium was just a dense layer of connective tissue.
Previously, researchers would take tissue samples and thinly slice them. They would be subjected to chemical treatments to help researchers identify particular areas. While helpful, this process drained the fluids from the samples. The loss of fluids collapsed the interstitium and caused it to become a distorted version of its true self, which misled scientists about its real form.
The discovery of the interstitium started when the researchers at NYU were looking at the bile duct and found tears in the tissue of the dead cells. Because they were unsure if these tears were actually tears or something else, they decided to look at living cells to get a better understanding.
The researchers used a technique called confocal laser endomicroscopy to look at living tissue. Essentially, they sent a tiny camera into the human body that lit up the tissue using lasers to create a fluorescent pattern that could be analyzed.
It was then that the researchers found that these were not tears but fluid-filled compartments that were distinct from the surround connective tissues and other cells.
What Does It Do?
With the new discovery in hand, the researchers sought to understand what could it be used for. Niel Theise, one of the researchers in the study focusing on imaging the cells, believes that among the functions the organ may have, it holds about 1/3 of our bodily fluids and may act as a sort of shock absorber to protect our cells.
Theise also believes that they could be a form of stem cell that is responsible for the formation of scar tissue when the body experiences an inflammatory disease. Additionally, the bundles may be capable of generating an electrical current and may have a role in acupuncture and related techniques.
One of the more important potential roles for the new organ is the spread of cancer. The organ is a large network of connecting bundles that allow fluids to move between them. If cancer finds its way into the organ, it may be able to easily spread across the body.
Also, this organ may contribute to things like wrinkling, stiff limbs, and the progression of age-related conditions because it changes with age. like other organs that age, it may lose movement, function, and develop problems that diminish its overall function.
Doubts About It Being An Organ
This is a new discovery that is largely under-researched. Because of this, there are reasonable doubts as to whether this is a new organ. Jennifer Munson, a biomedical engineer at Virginia Tech, admits that while this is a novel use for the new technique, it is still a developing area of thought that needs additional research to truly understand this potential organ.
The functions that the researchers propose is the function of this structure are only educated guesses based on preliminary understanding of the structure. More research is needed to verify its function.
We generally define an organ as a larger grouping of tissues that have adapted to perform a particular function within a living system. These organs are usually crucial to sustaining a living organism. There are things like the appendix, which is thought to be a vestigial organ or something that once had a function as an organ but is no longer needed for life.
The interstitium could simply be a new form of the connective tissue or associated with another organ rather than being its own organ. As with any new discoveries, more work will be needed to understand the importance of this structure and the role it plays.
Given the success of this new technique that founded the interstitium, the researchers believe that it is now crucial to reexamine the micro-anatomy of our bodies to see if there are any other structures we have missed because of how we previously examined our bodies. It may be possible that we find other organs that were missed out because they were not clearly defined as the others.