From this perspective, the interstitium is an organ in its own right, and one of the largest in the body. It protects the organs, muscles and vessels that keep our bodies alive by absorbing bumps and shocks. The researchers say that no one saw these spaces before because of the medical field’s dependence on the examination of fixed tissue on microscope slides. The “fixing” process makes vivid details of cells and structures, but drains away any fluid.
The scientists behind the research hope that the discovery will help to determine why cancer that affects this area of the body becomes more likely to metastasize. The research also offers new insight into the progression of fibrotic, sclerotic and inflammatory diseases. To make their findings, scientists used a technology called probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy. This finding about interstitium and its role, a previously unknown feature of human anatomy with implications for the function of all organs, has potential to drive dramatic advances in medicine, including the possibility that the direct sampling of interstitial fluid may become a powerful diagnostic tool. This work was funded in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.