Scientists have claimed of identifying a new human organ hiding in plain sight, in a discovery they hope could help them understand the spread of cancer within the body.
Called interstitium, this compartment is found everywhere throughout the body, beneath the skin, as well as lining the gut, lungs, blood vessels and muscles, and join together to form a network supported by a mesh of strong, flexible proteins.
It surrounds arteries, muscles, and the digestive and urinary tracts in a layer long thought to be dense connective tissue.
New analysis published in the journal Scientific Reports is the first to identify these spaces collectively as a new organ and try to understand their function.
Remarkably, the interstitium had previously gone unnoticed despite being one of the largest organs in the human body.
Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Centre medics 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.
The ground-breaking discovery of the new organ meant that old mysteries could be solved.