For years, researchers have struggled to find the reason mesothelioma and other cancers aggressively grow and spread throughout the body. Primarily, the focus has been on the spread of cancer cells through the bloodstream. Now, researchers report they have discovered a new organ that could be responsible for unbridled cancer growth.
In a recent discovery, researchers from New York University’s School of Medicine report they found a new organ that sits one layer below the skin. The mesh-like interstitium, as it has been named, is a layer of interstitial tissue filled with and surrounded by interstitial fluid. Although they have known about the tissue and fluid, the way the tissue had been examined in the past, with the fluid removed, it was seen as just another piece of tissue.
According to a March 27 article in the CNN, when the researchers kept the tissue alive and examined it more closely, they found that it has a unitary structure with compartments filled with fluids. The researchers surmised some of the fluid is lymph fluid, of the lymphatic system that supports immunity, and flows through the body through these interconnected compartments. The flow of fluids can also spread diseases, including cancer.
Because the interstitium has a single structure and a single function, Neil Theise, a professor at NYU’s School of Medicine and author on the paper, says it meets the criterium to be considered an organ. The interstitium is throughout the body, like the skin, but he says, it is even larger than the skin.
Thiese believes the interstitium could change the way doctors think about cancer and other diseases. “It’s been known that when cancer invades this layer, either in the skin or in the viscera, that’s when it first becomes able to spread outside the organ of where it arose,” said Theise.
“This discovery will open up new research pathways for inflammation and cancer progression,” added Dr. Petros Constantinos Benias, co-lead author of the study, a member of the Feinstein Institute and an assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell Health.
Mesothelioma is the signature cancer of asbestos caused by inflammation from inhaling the microscopic fibers. The cancer can spread rapidly, and treatments are focused on trying to halt metastasis. This new understanding of how the cancer may travel through the interstitium could lead to a new approach for halting cancer growth.
Much more research still needs to be conducted, but the team suggests that whereas currently blood and tissue samples are used as a diagnostic tool, interstitial fluids may be effective.
“We are optimistic that with what we learned, we’ll soon be able to study and target the interstitial space for diagnosis of disease and perhaps for novel personalized treatments,” said Dr. Benias.
Find the study in the March 27 issue of Scientific Reports.