The researchers in this article have discovered a new structure in the human body. They haven’t given it a name yet though, so a description will have to do.
During a laser endomicroscopy of the extrahepatic duct, they saw a structure that 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.” Upon further investigation, they found this structure “in numerous tissues that are subject to intermittent or rhythmic compression, including the submucosae of the entire gastrointestinal tract [guts] and urinary bladder, the dermis [skin], the peri-bronchial [lungs] and peri-arterial [heart] soft tissues, and fascia [like the gristle in meat].”
Here’s a picture:
To me it looks and sounds like a mesh with fluid in the holes. It’s the fact that there is fluid in those holes that’s new and interesting.
Ok…. so what?
The researchers are hypothesizing that this structure is where all the interstitial fluid lives and that it is somehow intimately related to the lymph system. Because of this connection they’re thinking this structure may be playing a roll in swelling, fibrotic diseases (when these tissues that are supposed to be able to move in order to function stiffen up and don’t work so well), cancer metastasis (spreading), and the physiology (proper functioning) of the above tissues and organs.
Which doesn’t sound like much, but is actually HUGE. Understanding the function or physiology of the structures and tissues above is the base of understanding pathophysiology or what’s happening to the structure when it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Once you get a handle on the pathophysiology, you can start thinking on what to do to fix what’s wrong with it. That’s modern medicine: fixing bad structures. So if we medical people can better understand the structures, we can better fix them when something goes wrong.
Now how this new knowledge will effect treatment strategies, we don’t really know yet. More research is needed to understand more of what this structure is (like a name!), how it effects the tissues and organs it is attached to, is it an organ in it’s own right, is it attached to the lymph system and if so, how.
Exciting, awe inspiring stuff!