Allah said in the Quran;
And on the earth are signs for the faithful,
And in yourselves. So do you not see?”
—— [Adh-Dhariyat-51-Verse: 20-21]
Every day, new mysteries and secrets of nature appear in front of us, many secrets are learned and many remain hidden. From the smallest atom to the dark energy, the universe is full of miracles. While we look out into the vast, never-ending space and probe the deepest depths of the oceans, we also try to learn what WE are. What is present in us? How does our body work? What is the secret of our lives? Every time we think we have solved one of nature’s mysteries, a thousand other mysteries spring up from the knowledge we gain.
Recently, scientists identified a new organ in our body, the Interstitium. One that had remained hidden in plain sight for centuries. This discovery could be a hope in changing the tide of war against cancer. It was first thought to be a form of dense connective tissue. It is present everywhere, from our skin to our intestines, arteries and veins, like a layer of mesh. It cases the fibrous tissue between muscles, lines our digestive tract, lungs and urinary system.
It is not, however, a connective tissue, in fact it as whole organ, much like the skin. The Interstitium is a layer of fluid-filled compartments joined together by collagen and elastin, a flexible protein. They act as “shock absorbers”, protecting the body from damage. It is also assumed to be linked to the body’s lymphatic system. First called a “wall” of collagen, research has revealed it is more of a fluid filled hallway than a wall. The researchers said these fluid-filled spaces had been missed for decades because they don’t show up on the standard microscopic slides that researchers use to peer into the cellular world. When scientists prepare tissue samples for these slides, they treat the samples with chemicals, cut them into thin slices and dye them to highlight key features. But this fixing process drains away fluid and causes the newfound fluid-filled spaces to collapse. Instead of their true identity as body-wide, fluid-filled shock absorbers, the squashed cells had been overlooked and considered a simple layer of connective tissue.
Dr David Carr-Locke and Dr Petros Benias came across the interstitium while investigating a patient’s bile duct, searching for signs of cancer. They noticed cavities that did not match any previously known human anatomy, and approached New York University pathologist Dr Neil Theise to ask for his expertise. Having arrived at this conclusion, the scientists realized this structure was found not only in the bile duct, but surrounding many crucial internal organs.
Freezing biopsy tissue taken from the bile ducts of 12 more patients enabled the team to preserve the anatomy of their newly discovered structure.
They realized the layer drains into the lymphatic system – the network of vessels transporting lymph, which is involved in the body’s immune response. Besides their ability to cushion the body’s organs and protect them from harm, the researchers found evidence that cancer cells from tumors could make their way via the interstitium into the lymphatic system. In providing a highway for fluid to move around the body, the interconnected cells of the interstitium may therefore have the unfortunate side effect of spreading cancer around the body. Understanding this newly discovered frontier in human anatomy could allow scientists to develop new tests for cancer.
Dr Theise stated,
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.