I’m fresh from the 5th International Fascia Research Congress in Berlin, and I can’t wait to pass along a few thoughts and inspirations. This year, the Fascia Congress focused less on fascial fibers and more on the fascial spaces – the interstitium or pre-lymphatics or the “conduit” as researcher Peter Friedl described it.
I’m certain that within all communities of like-minded practitioners, you can get myopic in your views, circulate through just a few common educators, and feel satisfied with what you have concluded from the teachings you’ve already received. Alas, when that’s the case, you limit your understanding to a static moment in time. How exciting that every three years we come together to learn more and witness the accomplishments of pioneering researchers. It consistently ignites my curiosity to keep learning.
There were a lot of highlights for me, but two presentations in particular really stunned me. The presentations by Neil Theise and Peter Friedl both had important information about the fluid dynamics and the implications of fluid flow from fascia to lymph. Their work interrelates, bringing new understanding to fluid dynamics and the hydrostatic potential of the extracellular matrix (ECM).
I’d never heard of Friedl before. His pioneering work started in 2005 and it’s creating a profound understanding of how cancer and other diseases affect the tissues and cells of our body. It’s amazing how science tends to stay segregated in a singular bubble of interest. Sometimes there’s a crossover that truly shifts the entire direction of an industry. Perhaps this work is such a moment.
Friedl uses confocal laser microscopy to study how fascia adapts to cancer and metastasis. His work essentially allows us to see the interstitium in colorful 3D – the tiny pre-lymphatic channels that were like tiny spaces in the fascia. He showed tissue at such high magnification I can’t begin to explain the importance of this technology.
As pictured below, Neil Theise shared his discoveries of these tiny channels in the biliary duct. In his cross-section slides, he showed tissue samples that give new understanding to the inner workings of this fluid movement on a microscopic, cellular, intracellular, and intercellular level.
While chatting with therapist and teacher (and friend and fellow fascia fanatic) Julian Baker at the Berlin Airport after the Congress, we discussed what the interstitium is. (The research section of his website is a great resource if you’re interested in learning more.) The pre-lymphatic channels, which have been documented in research before, show how fluid is moving between the fibers. But Theise discovered that around the biliary duct, there is a way for fluid to move around the fibers like little wormholes allowing fluid and perhaps cancer a way into the tiny spaces. We knew this was occurring but now they are really showing it in research.
How cancer metastasizes and how to support recovery is a topic of interest to me, as I work with many women during and after chemo and radiation therapy. I’m often asked: Should you massage a tumor?
My answer has always been no. Intuitively it seems like a bad idea and the frequency of a tumor I sense with my hands never gave me the feeling that massaging it would benefit the client. So I’ve always encouraged anyone with cancer to begin their self-care with the MELT Hand and Foot Treatments and the Rebalance Sequence if cancer had metastasized and if treatment was being administered. Each client is different so many clients also benefit from adding some of MELT’s two-directional length techniques in distant areas of the body, but I’d recommend a very minimal amount of compression techniques – and certainly nowhere near any tumors.
Friedl showed some of his work where they stained metastasized cells in a living mouse and gently massaged the tumor. It bled into surrounding once-healthy tissue through these pre-lymphatic channels. Like ink spreading through the shapes on your skin, it seems cancer spreads through these definable channels. So, therein lies the question: Could compressing tumors via massage encourage the spread of it? It seems that is possible, but what’s certain is more research is needed and that this new technology will help us understand the mechanics of metastasis.
How does one cancer cell reproduce and spread? Most of the new research is looking at the interstitial fluids. That’s both brilliant and scary. As a clinician, therapist, and creator of a self-care method, it makes me wonder how best to measure the effect of MELT on tissues in general and certainly on cancer.
Although Friedl’s work is focused on cancer biology and immunotherapy, connective tissue is the basis of everything human. We need to not only understand its structure in general, we need to understand its role in disease.
For now, I have no answers. Simply insights and questions and now connections to these amazing people to reach out to as we continue to bring science and clinical application from contiguous to continuous connection. Perhaps sharing these blogs is a simple start to a more profound answer. As always, I’m grateful to be in the community of these pioneers who are willing to share their direct insights with me.