Friday, September 5, 2014

Raymond Damadian and MRI

The 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield "for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging". In Chapter 18 of the 4th Edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I discuss MRI and the work behind this award. Choosing Nobel Prize winners can be controversial, and in this case some suggest that Raymond Damadian should have shared in the prize. Damadian himself famously took out an ad in the New York Times claiming his share of the credit. Priority disputes are not pretty events, but one can gain some insight into the history of magnetic resonance imaging by studying this one. The online news source The Why Files tells the story in detail. The controversy continues even today (see, for instance, the website of Damadian's company FONAR). Unfortunately, Damadian’s religious beliefs have gotten mixed up in the debate.

I think the issue comes down to a technical matter about MRI. If you believe the variation of T1 and T2 time constants among different tissues is the central insight in developing MRI, then Damadian has a valid claim. If you believe the use of magnetic field gradients for encoding spatial location is the key insight in MRI, his claim is weaker than Lauterbur and Mansfield's. Personally, I think the key idea of magnetic resonance imaging is using magnetic field gradients. IPMB states “Creation of the images requires the application of gradients in the static magnetic field Bz which cause the Larmor frequency to vary with position.” My understanding of MRI history is that this idea originated with Lauterbur and Mansfield (and was also earlier discovered by Hermann Carr).

To learn more, I suggest you read Naked to the Bone, which I discussed previously in this blog. This book discusses both the Damadian controversy, and a similar controversy centered around William Oldendorf and the development of Computed Tomography (which is mentioned in IPMB).

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