Off your moms nightstand.
Imagine standing up to give a speech in front of a critical audience. As you do your best to wax eloquent, someone in the room uses a clicker to conspicuously count your every stumble, hesitation, um and uh; once you’ve finished, this person loudly announces how many of these blemishes have marred your presentation.
This is exactly the tactic used by the Toastmasters public-speaking club, in which a designated “Ah Counter” is charged with tallying up the speaker’s slip-ups as part of the training regimen. The goal is total eradication. The club’s punitive measures may be extreme, but they reflect the folk wisdom that ums and uhs betray a speaker as weak, nervous, ignorant, and sloppy, and should be avoided at all costs, even in spontaneous conversation.
Many scientists, though, think that our cultural fixation with stamping out what they call “disfluencies” is deeply misguided. Saying um is no character flaw, but an organic feature of speech; far from distracting listeners, there’s evidence that it focuses their attention in ways that enhance comprehension.
Disfluencies arise mainly because of the time pressures inherent in speaking. Speakers don’t pre-plan an entire sentence and then mentally press “play” to begin unspooling it. If they did, they’d probably need to pause for several seconds between each sentence as they assembled it, and it’s doubtful that they could hold a long, complex sentence in working memory. Instead, speakers talk and think at the same time, launching into speech with only a vague sense of how the sentence will unfold, taking it on faith that by the time they’ve finished uttering the earlier portions of the sentence, they’ll have worked out exactly what to say in the later portions. Mostly, the timing works out, but occasionally it takes longer than expected to find the right phrase. Saying “um” is the speaker’s way of signaling that processing is ongoing, the verbal equivalent of a computer’s spinning circle. People sometimes have more disfluencies while speaking in public, ironically, because they are trying hard not to misspeak.
Since disfluencies show that a speaker is thinking carefully about what she is about to say, they provide useful information to listeners, cueing them to focus attention on upcoming content that’s likely to be meaty. One famous example comes from the movie Jurassic Park. When Jeff Goldblum’s character is asked whether a group of only female animals can breed, he replies, “No, I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh…finds a way.” The disfluencies emphasize that he’s coming to grips with something not easy to explain—an idea that turns out to be a key part of the movie.
Experiments with ums or uhs spliced in or out of speech show that when words are preceded by disfluencies, listeners recognize them faster and remember them more accurately. In some cases, disfluencies allow listeners to make useful predictions about what they’re about to hear. In one study, for example, listeners correctly inferred that speakers’ stumbles meant that they were describing complicated conglomerations of shapes rather than to simple single shapes.
In fact, designers of synthesized voice systems have begun experimenting with the insertion of naturalistic disfluencies into artificial speech.
Disfluencies can also improve our comprehension of longer pieces of content. Psychologists Scott Fraundorf and Duane Watson tinkered with recordings of a speaker’s retellings of passages from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and compared how well listeners remembered versions that were purged of all disfluencies as opposed to ones that contained an average number of ums and uhs (about two instances out of every 100 words). They found that hearers remembered plot points better after listening to the disfluent versions, with enhanced memory apparent even for plot points that weren’t preceded by a disfluency. Stripping a speech of ums and uhs, as Toastmasters are intent on doing, appears to be doing listeners no favors.
Moreover, there’s reason to question the implicit assumption that disfluencies reveal a speaker’s lack of knowledge. In a study led by Kathryn Womack, experienced physicians and residents in training looked at images of various dermatological conditions while talking their way to a diagnosis. Not surprisingly, the expert doctors were more accurate in their diagnoses than the residents. They also produced more complex sentences—and a greater number of disfluencies, giving lie to the notion that disfluencies reflect a lack of control over one’s material. On the contrary, the study’s authors suggest that the seasoned doctors had more disfluent speech because they were sifting through a larger body of knowledge and constructing more detailed explanations while planning their speech.
If disfluencies appear to generally help communication more than they hinder it, why are they so stigmatized? Writer and linguist Michael Erard argues in his book Um… that historically, public speakers have been blissfully unconcerned with disinfecting their speech of disfluencies until about the 20th Century—possibly because neither hearers nor speakers consciously noticed them until it became possible to record and replay spoken language in all its circuitous and halting glory. The aversion to disfluencies may well have arisen from speakers’ horror at hearing their own recorded voices. Erard suggests that the modern repugnance for disfluencies is less an assessment of a person’s speech than it is a “deeper judgment about how much control he should have over his self-presentation and his identity.” In truth, disfluencies appear to distract mainly those who have been trained to revile them.
Perhaps there’s an argument to be made that public speaking is different from day-to-day communication, that it’s a performance in which the artist is meant to demonstrate almost superhuman mastery over speech and make verbal virtuosity look easy precisely because of the absence of cues that reveal its complexity. Maybe so. But the prohibition of ums should be recognized for what it is—a display focused on presenting the speaker in a flattering light—and not mistaken for courtesy directed at the listener.
In fact, designers of synthesized voice systems, who often are rather solicitous when it comes to the hearer’s ease and comfort, have begun experimenting with the insertion of naturalistic disfluencies into artificial speech (though it’s too soon to tell whether listeners respond to these as they do to human disfluencies). It’s an irony of our age that robots, unconcerned with ego, may be busy putting disfluencies into their speech just as humans, preoccupied with their self-images, are submitting to strenuous training to take them out.
[DOUBLEPOST=1522036875,1521990797][/DOUBLEPOST][DOUBLEPOST=1522044724][/DOUBLEPOST][DOUBLEPOST=1522094727][/DOUBLEPOST][DOUBLEPOST=1522099093][/DOUBLEPOST][DOUBLEPOST=1522184738][/DOUBLEPOST]Even Dr Gonzo, the hell-raising Samoan attorney in Hunter S Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), wouldn’t touch ‘extract of pineal’. That stuff was the limit: ‘One whiff of that shit would turn you into something out of a goddamn medical encyclopaedia! Man, your head would swell up like a watermelon, you’d probably gain about a hundred pounds in two hours … claws, bleeding warts, then you’d notice about six huge hairy tits swelling up on your back… Man, I’ll try just about anything; but I’d never in hell touch a pineal gland.’
While Dr Gonzo avoided the pineal, others have celebrated this small, pinecone-shaped endocrine gland near the centre of the brain. Notably, the psychiatrist Rick Strassman has championed the pineal gland as a possible source of the powerful psychoactive compound DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). Struck by the ‘blinding light of pineal DMT’, Strassman has suggested in his 2001 best-seller, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, that the mammalian pineal gland could be a gateway between life and death.
That book described the first new research on psychedelics in the United States since the 1960s. In groundbreaking work conducted at the University of New Mexico in the first half of the 1990s, Strassman administered intravenous doses of DMT to nearly 60 volunteers, more than half of whom described encounters with ‘entities’, beings that were variously clownish, elven, angelic, demonic, alien, robotic, insectoidal, and more. These reports triggered Strassman’s provocative proposition that the pineal gland, under stress, could release enough DMT into the brain to cause extraordinary transpersonal experiences. After Strassman’s subjects reported encounters with aliens and other non-human forms, he conjectured that visionaries and prophets throughout history may have been in the throes of a pineal surge of naturally occurring DMT.
A potent, short-lasting compound that has been found throughout the plant kingdom, DMT can induce the sensation of leaving the body, producing profound changes in sensory perception, mood and thought, when it is administered externally – for instance, when it’s smoked or injected. Those under the influence sometimes compare the episode to the near-death experience, complete with perceived sentient beings who transmit information, often in the form of visual language. DMT is an important ingredient in the increasingly popular Amazonian brew ayahuasca. Its modern history starts with Hungarian psychiatrist Stephen Szára, who began studying its psychopharmacological actions in Budapest in 1956, documenting the short-lived but powerful hallucinogenic effects. Before long, other researchers had shown that DMT, much like the neurotransmitter serotonin, was a naturally occurring tryptamine – produced endogenously, by the body itself. But while researchers were successfully deciphering the purpose of serotonin in the function of the brain, the status of DMT remained notoriously complicated and unclear.
Generating controversy, some began to propose that this powerful psychedelic drug could be produced by the human body (and indeed the brain) in sufficient quantities to enable a natural psychedelic experience. The conjecture that we could produce enough of our own, endogenous DMT to induce altered states of consciousness without ingesting any chemical compound generated enthusiasm, and these unproven claims departed the clinic to lead independent lives in popular culture at large.
From the 1950s through to the ’90s, endogenous DMT was thought to cause psychopathologies. In the early years of this research, psychiatrists hailed this so-called ‘psychotomimetic’ compound – a compound that naturally mimics psychoses – as a possible chemical key in the cure for schizophrenia. Research on this front, however, demonstrated little variation between levels of DMT in normal volunteers and those with psychotic illnesses. While clinical research involving healthy volunteers could have provided vital knowledge, the War on Drugs in the United States made such research impossible.
The research vacuum was an absurdity to the ethnobotanist and stand-up philosopher Terence McKenna, not least since DMT was found naturally in the human brain. ‘This is the Catch-22 that they hold in reserve if they ever have to come after us – you are holding, and you can’t stop yourself,’ McKenna told an audience at the Camden Centre in London on 15 June 1992, during his presentation titled ‘Alchemical Youth at the Edge of the World’. McKenna was, hands down, the most outspoken advocate for tryptamines such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms, DMT, and its increasingly popular analog, 5-MeO-DMT.
Touring the globe during the 1980s and ’90s, McKenna shared his sometimes studied and other times half-baked opinions on world pharmacopeia. He championed the DMT experience as nothing short of a human ‘birthright’ – as much as ‘our sexuality, our language, our eyesight, our appreciation of music’. Extemporising on the meaning and purpose of endogenous DMT was among his popular subjects. The breakthrough experience associated with ‘heroic doses’, he claimed, could inaugurate visionary experiences intended not for the individual’s psychotherapy but, as he stated in a 1991 lecture at Stanford University, ‘the redemption of the human spirit’. This perspective gave inspiration to an underground community of enthusiasts who came to embrace plants, compounds and practices that purportedly ‘awaken the divine within’.
Strassman documented the alien ‘worlds’ into which his volunteers plunged and the ‘entities’ encountered
In 1986, Strassman had a pivotal encounter with McKenna at the Esalen Institute at Big Sur in California, followed by a working session at McKenna’s house in Sebastopol, CA, two years hence. ‘If it weren’t for my friendship with Terence, it’s unlikely I ever would have studied DMT,’ Strassman has recalled. ‘Nor would the form of my research be the same without [that] particularly memorable brainstorming session in his library in the summer of 1988.’
It was not long after this encounter that Strassman began his arduous and eventually successful gambit to gain approvals from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration to trial DMT with healthy individuals. Observing the phenomenological effects reported by participants in the New Mexico trials, Strassman documented the alien ‘worlds’ into which his volunteers plunged. The drama and authenticity of these reports caused Strassman to challenge the view of DMT as the ‘nightmare hallucinogen’ promoted by legendary drug experimentalist William S Burroughs. Under Strassman’s watch, DMT was now the ‘spirit molecule’. Something was happening here, and for Strassman, the pineal gland was the smoking gun.
Identified in 300 BCE by the Greek physician Herophilos as the brain’s only unpaired organ, the pineal gland has long been a source of mystery and speculation. Galen, another Greek physician and philosopher, discussed its role as a valve regulating the flow of ‘psychic pneuma’. This view informed René Descartes, who in the 17th century situated the soul (for him, the mind) precisely in this tiny mid-brain structure, which he imagined to be something of a thought valve; he called it ‘the seat of the soul’.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that scientists recognised the pineal as an endocrine organ – an important hub at night for converting the neurotransmitter serotonin, essential for higher cognitive processes, into the hormone melatonin, which plays a crucial role in activating sleep cycles. Finally, in the late 1980s, the neurochemist James Callaway proposed that pineal melatonin is converted into DMT (along with pinoline and 5-MeO-DMT) just before the onset of REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep, when we dream. Were such endogenous, psychoactive molecules literally fuelling our dreams?
Such questions tantalised Strassman, prompting him to pursue the phantom of the ‘psychedelic pineal gland’. He speculated that the pineal might excrete large quantities of DMT during extremely stressful life episodes, notably in the events of birth and death. He speculated that the gland’s central position in the brain, within the epithalamus, could allow for DMT secretion directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, impacting visual and auditory pathways. Absorbing the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism, he wondered whether, when we die (or indeed, have near-death experiences), the life force could be leaving the body through the pineal gland. Was DMT like the floodwaters carrying the soul into the liminal phase (or bardo) between life and life, as depicted in The Tibetan Book of the Dead? He proposed that, functioning like a spirit antenna, ‘pineal DMT release at forty-nine days after conception marks the entrance of the spirit into the fetus’. The impact of these speculations were felt in popular esoteric (spiritualist) circles and within Strassman’s Zen Buddhist community in Northern California, where he was ordained as a lay member until he was censured and subsequently exited in the late 1990s.
A reawakened pineal gland that opened the ‘third eye’ could enable astral travel and consciousness evolution
Speculation on the psychedelic efficacy of the pineal has reawakened interest in the organ. People have championed the capacity of the pineal to arouse previously dormant powers of perception, especially those associated with vision: clairvoyance, seeing auras, and being awakened to information from other dimensions. Appealing to spiritual practitioners, parapsychologists and filmmakers alike, the readouts from Strassman’s study impressed those eager for neurochemical explanations of extrasensory abilities and extraordinary states of consciousness.
The appeal is unsurprising, given how ideas presented in Strassman’s book were easily interpreted as assertions of truth. And these truths were broadly consistent with modern theosophy, especially the ideas of the Theosophical Society, a clearinghouse for new spirituality that, from the late-19th century, had its agendas shaped by Eastern spirituality. The condensed reports from Strassman’s volunteers could be seen as validating spiritual claims: ostensible transit into higher-dimensional ‘hyperspace’, after all, resembles theosophical methods for tripping on the ‘astral plane’, where travellers leave their bodies to access ‘higher consciousness’ and awaken their inner divinity. Contact with purported ‘entities’ transmitting visual information parallels the notion of channelling wisdom from the ‘hidden masters’ recorded by the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky. Reports from some of Strassman’s subjects even held a strange resemblance to the ‘intelligent cosmic evolution’ found in Blavatsky’s magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine (1888).
These are no small asides, given Blavatsky’s belief that a decalcified pineal gland – the ‘eye of Shiva’ that had atrophied through the course of evolution – is integral to the evolution of consciousness. This appropriation of Hindu philosophy gave New Age followers cause to celebrate. Like an opened Third Eye, a reawakened pineal gland could enable out-of-body experiences, hypnagogic imagery, near-death experiences, astral travel and, ultimately, consciousness evolution, they held. Now armed with knowledge of the ‘spirit molecule’, they could fashion practices or update techniques presumed to enable DMT synthesis in, and release from, the pineal.
Mocking the spiritual evolutionary agendas of Blavatsky and other theosophists, the horror writer H P Lovecraft challenged the presumed virtues of the organ, which in his fiction was exploited as a literary device that could re-open ‘cracks in the world’. In the horror culture that Lovecraft inspired, the pineal gland was no longer the deva (or deity) eye whose reawakening will allow us to re-evolve. Instead, it became an ancient gateway whose modern day disturbance at the hands of foolish and corrupt scientists allowed them in. In this subversion, the pineal became an antenna that not only detects signals from the cosmic horror show beyond, but as evident in Lovecraft’s short story ‘From Beyond’ (1920) (inspiration for Stuart Gordon’s ludicrous 1986 film adaptation of the same name), invites malevolence into our world.
The narrator in ‘From Beyond’ recounts a gripping tale of the estranged scientist Crawford Tillinghast, who has discovered the true function of the dormant, malevolent gland, which he awakes with an electrical machine. Making the formerly invisible world available to the senses, the unspeakable horror of Tillinghast’s machine, according to Lovecraft, is that it exists in the here-and-now, all the time.
Long-clawed, ashen-faced entities are unleashed in pineal-DMT-harvesting experiments gone awry
Such narratives have assisted the release of the ‘spirit molecule’ into the pop-cultural bloodstream. In one tradition, theosophical pursuits are combined with post-Romantic ideas to suggest that ‘entheogens’ (hallucinogens from plants) perform like ancient astronauts, guides and teachers for alienated humans, now heroically dosed to avert their tragic fate. Among those who have transposed this mindset into fiction is the author Graham Hancock, for whom DMT, among other substances, is embraced as a world-saving device. In Hancock’s dark entheo-fantasy, Entangled: The Eater of Souls (2010), maverick physicist John Bannerman (a character loosely based on Strassman) goes in search of ‘the holy grail of quantum physics’, introducing volunteers to DMT in hopes of finding ‘an alternate system of human perception – a sort of sixth sense that might be harnessed to explore other dimensions of reality’.
Another narrative buoyed by the mythos of the spirit molecule is the found-footage-style horror film Banshee Chapter, directed by Blair Erickson and released in 2013. Inspired by Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond’ (and its film adaptation), this instant cult classic weaves together the shadowy legacy of the CIA’s MKUltra ‘mind control’ research – in which DMT (alongside other psychoactives) was tested on human subjects – and the now-popular suspicion, via Strassman, of DMT’s production in the human pineal gland. Here, long-clawed, ashen-faced entities that appear to own their victims are unleashed in pineal-DMT-harvesting experiments gone awry. In homage to Fear and Loathing, the film’s rogue literary figure, Thomas Blackburn, strikes a Hunter S Thompson pose. But rather than causing tits to grow on your back, the mutant CIA DMT inaugurates a disaster of greater interdimensional proportions – not unlike Tillinghast’s resonating machine.
That same year, Strassman and his colleagues reported that DMT had been identified in the pineal glands of rats, a finding met with considerable interest in the growing psychedelic research community. But while these findings boosted Strassman’s theories, the debate over whether the human pineal gland could manufacture DMT in psychedelic quantities still rages on.
And as the search for solid proof continues, the runaway ‘DMT gland’ meme continues to fuel films, our literature and our cultural myths, impregnated with opposing perspectives on the human condition.
In staking their claims, cultural producers have exploited the uncertainties associated with DMT and its profoundly unpredictable out-of-body effects, which make the compound ripe for imaginative storytelling. The narratives that emerge are imbued with ambivalence. In David Gelb’s 2015 feature, The Lazarus Effect, pineal DMT is the base-compound for a serum that – you guessed it – brings back the dead. And, as you’ve no doubt further guessed, we might have been better off if the dead weren’t tampered with.
The polarity around the molecule is widespread: good or bad? Tragic or transcendent?
In the popular science-fiction TV series Sense8 (2015-), DMT plays a prominent role in the opening episode. Introduced as a potential source of ‘truth, connection, transcendence’, the molecule is used to connect the story’s ‘cluster’ of Homo sensorium – an evolving human form, with members distributed across the planet, but psychically and sensuously connected to each other. The DJ Riley Blue, an H sensorium, is introduced to a drug dealer, Nyx, who smokes DMT with her. During that experience, Blue is transported into the world and body of Will, a Chicago cop, and a member of her cluster; but when she emerges from her interdimensional trance, she discovers that Nyx has been knocked unconscious and is being robbed of his money and drugs by two of Riley’s acquaintances – who only moments before were smoking DMT as well. In a subsequent episode, Nyx locates and abducts Riley, torturing her for information about his missing money (which she’d given to a huckster). With DMT implicated in greed, violence and revenge, the creators of Sense8 express a seriously ambivalent attitude towards the ‘spirit molecule’. Good or bad? Tragic or transcendent? A source of hope or fear? Worldviews collide here and we cannot be sure who is right.
That isn’t stopping Strassman; he continues to stoke the popular imagination. With neuroscientist Andrew Gallimore at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, he recently published a pharmacological model for administering DMT to volunteers through ‘target-controlled intravenous infusion’, a technology that can maintain a stable concentration of the drug in the brain. If what some call the ‘DMT machine’ gets off the ground, it could stretch a 20-minute experience to as much as five hours, enabling a generation of psychedelic Magellans prophesied by McKenna. While this extensive exploration of ‘alien worlds’ has psychotherapeutic applications, the DMT machine has all the hallmarks of a science fiction tour de force. And as for the pineal? New rumours come from Strassman himself: elevated levels of DMT found in a dying rat’s brain are set to trigger fresh secretions of debate over the spirit gland.
To be or not to be an organ: That is the question.
Researchers have detailed the structure and distribution of spaces in your body that they say represent a newfound human organ, and this "organ" just might be your body's biggest -- but not all experts are convinced.
It's the part of the body known as the interstitium, a name for widespread, fluid-filled spaces within and between tissues all over your body, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Tuesday.
Doctors and scientists have known about interstitial tissue and interstitial fluid, but the study provides fresh insights into a previously unrecognized feature of human anatomy -- and the researchers are raising the idea of calling the interstitium an "organ."
"Initially, we were just thinking it's an interesting tissue, but when you actually delve into how people define organs, it sort of runs around one or two ideas: that it has a unitary structure or that it's a tissue with a unitary structure, or it's a tissue with a unitary function," said Dr. Neil Theise, professor of pathology at NYU Langone Health in New York, who was a co-senior author of the study.
"This has both," he said of the interstitium. "This structure is the same wherever you look at it, and so are the functions that we're starting to elucidate."
Additionally, "I think it's bigger than the skin," he said. The skin, comprising roughly 16% of your body mass, is thought to be your largest organ. As for the interstitium, "my estimate is that 20% of the volume of the body is this, which is equivalent to about 10 liters in a young adult."
'Once you see it, you can't unsee it'
For the study, Theise and his colleagues used a powerful microscope with a technique called confocal laser endomicroscopy to examine and analyze healthy living tissue samples from human bile ducts. The samples were taken from 13 patients undergoing pancreatic surgeries at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York.
The samples were infused with a fluorescent liquid, allowing the researchers to see every detail. They wrote in the study that they observed spaces where fluid accumulates. Those spaces appeared to be pre-lymphatic, meaning they appeared to drain into lymph nodes.
Traditionally, when such tissue samples are examined under a microscope, the tissues are dehydrated and look like dense layers, Theise said. So the interstitium could have gone previously unnoticed because it was collapsed due to dehydration.
"Now, it's clear that by looking in the living tissue at the microscopic level with this new confocal laser endomicroscopy ... that space is fully expanded and filled with fluid," he said. "Once you see it, you can't unsee it."
Theise described encountering this new view of the interstitium as a moment of "quiet awe."
The interstitium is seen here beneath the top layer of skin but is also in tissue layers lining the gut, lungs and urinary systems, as well as those surrounding blood vessels and the fascia between muscles.
More research is needed to better understand the true function of the interstitium, how it impacts other parts of the body and the disagreements over its organ status.
After all, "I would think of this as a new component that is common among a variety of organs, rather than a new organ in and of itself," said Dr. Michael Nathanson, professor of medicine and cell biology and chief of the section of digestive diseases at Yale University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
"It would be analogous to discovering blood vessels for the first time, in that they are in every organ but they aren't an organ themselves," Nathanson said.
"In my opinion, this has the potential to change our understanding of the human body because this 'pre-lymphatic region,' as the authors refer to it, may undergo changes in certain diseases states such as certain types of cancer," he said. "So this now puts us in a position to figure out whether this is an effect or else perhaps part of the cause of such diseases."
Shedding light on how cancer spreads
The new study suggests that interstitium spaces may play a role in helping cancer cells spread around the body, becoming metastatic, Theise said.
"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," he said.
When cancer cells break away from a tumor, they can travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system, according to the American Cancer Society. Since interstitium spaces might act as conduits, "this raises the possibility that direct sampling of the interstitial fluid could be a diagnostic tool," the researchers wrote.
The interstitium could change the way doctors think about not only cancer but also potentially other diseases and many functions within the body, Theise said.
It's the tissue around arteries that gets squeezed with every pulse of your heart, Theise said. It gets squeezed every time your bladder pushes out urine, and it's the space where tattoo pigment resides.
It's also the space where the tip of the needle goes during acupuncture, which Theise said might hold clues to how that complementary medicine approach might impact the body.
"This discovery is extremely exciting because we've defined novel microanatomy and have laid the groundwork for how this may begin to explain cancer spread, inflammation and scarring of connective tissue. This discovery will open up new research pathways for inflammation and cancer progression," said 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, in a written statement.
"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," he said.
An unusually transparent galaxy about the size of the Milky Way is prompting new questions for astrophysicists.
The object, with the catchy moniker of NGC1052-DF2, appears to contain no dark matter.
If this turns out to be true, it may be the first galaxy of its kind - made up only of ordinary matter. Currently, dark matter is thought to be essential to the fabric of the Universe as we understand it.
The study is published in Nature.
The authors of the study weren't initially on the hunt for a dark matter-free galaxy; instead they had set out to take a closer look at large, ultra-diffuse galaxies.
These are similar in size to the spiral galaxies we're more familiar with, but have a fraction of the number of stars.
When Prof Pieter van Dokkum, lead author of the study, first spotted NGC1052-DF2, "I stared a lot at that image and just marvelled at it... It's like this ghostly glow in the sky."
The galaxy has very few stars, but many of them are grouped together in unusually bright clusters. When the team studied the behaviour of these clusters, they found that the stars seemed to account for all of the galaxy's mass.
Leaving no room for dark matter.
This is not the case for most galaxies.
"There's about five times more dark matter in a galaxy than regular matter," explained Dr Michelle Collins, a physicist at the University of Surrey who was not involved in the study.
"As you go further out from the galaxy you have fewer stars and more dark matter. The dark matter halo is much more extended than the stars are in a galaxy," she added.
You can't have one without the other
As it has greater mass than normal matter, dark matter is believed to hold the necessary gas together while galaxies are forming.
"So this galaxy would have to form a different way: maybe from interactions within gas that's flowing into or blowing out of a larger galaxy," North Carolina State University astrophysicist Dr Katherine Mack told BBC News.
"It's not just galaxies," explains van Dokkum. "The entire fabric of the universe is really the scaffolding of dark matter and everything else is pasted on it."
For Mack, the most exciting aspect of this galaxy is its potential to prove that dark matter - until now widely theorised but not directly observed - is real.
If dark matter were just an unexplained effect of the gravity from regular matter, its effects would be visible in this galaxy. "So it only makes sense if dark matter is a real substance, that can be present or not, separately from the regular matter," Mack added.
The team has another paper forthcoming that will take a closer look at the bright star clusters, and may unravel more of NGC1052-DF2's mystery.
More work remains to be done on this and similar objects before dark matter theory needs to be fundamentally altered, however.
"You always have to be careful to say it's the first of anything," says van Dokkum. "It's certainly the best candidate for a baryonic [ordinary matter] galaxy."
Dr Collins is cautious to conclude that the galaxy has no dark matter halo, based on the current evidence.
She notes that there may be other galaxies with unusual and unexplained features, but technology will need to improve before they can be properly observed.
"We have some galaxies nearby that show some similar properties but they're much fainter. They're much smaller objects," she told BBC News.
Dr Richard Massey, a physicist at Durham University, agrees: "I'm genuinely very impressed with the work, and I'd use the conclusions to say that we should stare at these objects a lot harder for a lot longer - but I wouldn't conclude anything profound about dark matter quite yet," he told BBC News