A mysterious network of fluid-filled channels may be the key to how cancerous cells spread throughout the body.
Using advanced endoscopy techniques, a team of medical researchers expected to find evidence that the bile duct is protected by a wall of dense external tissue. Instead, what the discovered was a strange series of patterns. When they brought the results to New York University School of Medicine Pathologist Neil Theise, he immediately set to work, trying to explain what they were seeing.
Dr. Theise found evidence of the same patterns beneath the skin of his own nose; then, investigating further, much the same throughout other organs in the body. It appears that the strange patterns are in fact channels through which fluid moves throughout the body. These channels seem to form an entirely new, as-yet-undiscovered organ.
So what is its purpose, and how has it evaded detection for so long? Theise and his colleagues theorize that it is a shock absorption system for the other organs in the body. It has been hidden thus far because all traditional methods of inspection cause those channels to drain. The collagen fibers that support their structure then collapse, making the entire system appear to be no more than the dense wall of tissue researchers expected to find.
It is also now believed that these channels may spread cancer, with malignant cells floating through them directly toward the lymphatic system on what Theise called a “water slide” effect. “We have a new window on the mechanism of tumour spread,” he said.
Now, the question is whether analysis of these channels may aid in life-saving early diagnosis of some forms of cancer. It is suspected that this knowledge will also help with oedema — a liver disease — and even some inflammatory disorders.