Scientists discover a new human organ – the insterstitium

A newfound organ, the interstitium, resides beneath the top layer of skin, and in tissue layers lining the gut, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles. The organ is a body-wide network of interconnected, fluid-filled compartments supported by a meshwork of strong, flexible proteins.

Using a new way of visualising anatomy, scientists have just discovered a vast new structure in the human body that could be considered an organ in its own right.

The finding, published in the journal Scientific Reports, has important implications for our understanding of how all organs and tissues function, and could reveal previously unknown mechanisms driving diseases such as fibrosis and cancer.

But how could something so significant have gone unnoticed all this time?

It was well known that a layer of tissue lies just below the surface of the skin, and also lines the lungs, the digestive and urinary tracts, and much of the circulatory system. But it was thought this comprised little more than dense, connective tissue.

The new research reveals that it is actually a vast, interconnected system of fluid-filled compartments that extends all over the body.

That contents is extra-cellular, or “interstitial”, fluid. Accordingly, the structure has been dubbed “the interstitium”.

Until now, the interstitium had been hidden in plain sight because the traditional method of preparing microscope slides involves draining away fluid. This had caused the sacs to collapse, leaving only the supportive connective tissue visible.

But recently, researchers led by Neil Theise at New York University in the US began using probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy, which aims laser light at living tissue and detects reflected fluorescent patterns, providing a different sort of microscopic image. While examining the bile duct of a cancer patient, they found a network of fluid-filled sacks that had never been seen before.

They soon found this network everywhere tissues are distended or compressed as part of normal function — which is quite a lot of the body — and propose that the interstitium may function as a shock absorber.

Its physical structure is certainly quite unusual: the fluid-filled spaces are supported by an extensive lattice of collagen bundles that are lined on only one side by what appear to be a type of stem cell.

These cells may help make collagen, and could aid in wound healing. Similarly, they could contribute to conditions associated with inflammation and ageing.

In addition to cushioning, the interstitium may have another important job. While it was known that interstitial fluid is the major source of lymph fluid, which carries immune cells throughout the body, just how it reaches the lymphatic system was unclear. The new research shows that the interstitium drains directly into the lymph nodes.

The study also shows that cancers, such as melanoma, are able to spread via the interstitium.

“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,” says Theise.

Indian court asked to rule on whether Hindu guru dead or meditating

The family and followers of one of India’s wealthiest Hindu spiritual leaders are fighting a legal battle over whether he is dead or simply in a deep state of meditation.

His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, the founder of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan religious order with a property estate worth an estimated £100 million, died in January, according to his wife and son.

However, his disciples at his Ashram have refused to let the family take his body for cremation because they claim he is still alive.

According to his followers, based in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, he simply went into a deep Samadhi or meditation and they have frozen his body to preserve it for when he wakes from it.

His body is currently contained in a commercial freezer at their Ashram.

The late – or living – guru, who was in his seventies, established his sect in 1983 to promote “self-awakening to global peace” and to create a world “wherein every individual becomes an embodiment of truth, fraternity and justice through the eternal science of self-realisation”.

Today the group has thousands of followers around the world and owns dozens of large properties throughout India, the United States, South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe, including its British headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex.

While he is thought to have died from a heart attack, his devotees believe he has simply drifted into a deeper form of the meditation he promotes as a pathway to self-realisation.

A statement on the group’s website reads: “His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj ji has been in deep meditative state (Samadhi) since 29th January 2014.”

According to one of his aides, who asked not to be named, “Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels and we will ensure his body is preserved until then”, he said.

His body is held in a guarded room in a deep freezer on his 100 acre retreat in Nurmahal, Jalandhar, where only a few elders and sect doctors are allowed to enter.

Although Punjab Police initially confirmed his death, the Punjab High Court later dismissed its status report and local governmental officials said it was a spiritual matter and that the guru’s followers cannot be forced to believe he is dead.

Now his wife and son have filed a court application calling for an investigation into the circumstances of his death and for his body to be released for cremation.