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Raymond Damadian

Raymond Vahan Damadian

Raymond Vahan Damadian (born March 16, 1936, NY USA) is an American medical practitioner and inventor of the first MR (Magnetic Resonance) Scanning Machine.[1] His research into sodium and potassium in living cells led him to his first experiments with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) which caused him to first propose the MR body scanner in 1969. Damadian discovered that tumors and normal tissue can be distinguished in vivo by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) because of their relaxation times. Damadian was the first to perform a full body scan of a human being in 1977 to diagnose cancer. Damadian invented an apparatus and method to use NMR safely and accurately to scan the human body, a method now well known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).[2]

Damadian has received several prizes: In 2001, the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program bestowed its $100,000 Lifetime Achievement Award on Damadian as "the man who invented the MRI scanner."[3] He went on to collaborate with Wilson Greatbach, one early developer of the implantable pacemaker, to develop an MRI-compatible pacemaker. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia gave its recognition of Damadian's work on MRI with the Bower Award in Business Leadership.[4] He was also named Knights of Vartan 2003 "Man of the Year".[5] He received a National Medal of Technology in 1988 and was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989.[6]


Early life

Damadian was born in New York, to an Armenian family. He earned his bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1956, and an M.D. degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in 1960. He studied the violin at Juilliard for 8 years.[7]

Magnetic resonance imaging

In a 1971 paper in the journal Science,[8] SUNY Downstate Medical Center professor Damadian reported that tumors and normal tissue can be distinguished in vivo by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). He suggested that these differences could be used to diagnose cancer, though later research would find that these differences, while real, are too variable for diagnostic purposes. Damadian's initial methods were flawed for practical use,[9] relying on a point-by-point scan of the entire body and using relaxation rates, which turned out to not be an effective indicator of cancerous tissue.[10] In 1974, he received the first patent in the field of MRI when he patented the concept of NMR[11] for detecting cancer after filing an application in 1972. As the National Science Foundation notes, "The patent included the idea of using NMR to 'scan' the human body to locate cancerous tissue."[12] However, it did not describe a method for generating pictures from such a scan or precisely how such a scan might be done.[13]

In the 1950s, Herman Carr reported [14] creating a one-dimensional MR image. Prompted by Damadian's report on the potential medical uses of NMR, Paul Lauterbur expanded on Carr's technique and developed a way to generate the first MRI images, in 2D and 3D, using gradients. Peter Mansfield from the University of Nottingham then developed a mathematical technique that would allow scans to take seconds rather than hours and produce clearer images than Lauterbur had. While Lauterbur and Mansfield focused on animals and human limbs, Damadian built the first full-body MRI machine[9] and produced the first full magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan of the human body, albeit using a "focused field" technique that differs considerably from modern imaging. In recording the history of MRI, Mattson and Simon (1996) credit Damadian with describing the concept of whole-body NMR scanning, as well as discovering the NMR tissue relaxation differences that made this feasible.

First human MRI body scan

On July 3, 1977, the first MRI body exam was performed on a human being (the first human scan was performed by Sir Peter Mansfield's team in Nottingham a year earlier – but this was a cross-sectional image through a finger rather than a body scan). It took almost five hours to produce one image. The images were rudimentary by modern standards. Damadian, along with colleagues Dr. Larry Minkoff and Dr. Michael Goldsmith, labored tirelessly for seven long years to reach this point. They named their original machine "Indomitable" to capture the spirit of their struggle to do what many said could not be done, however no systems would ever use Damadian's method. His technique of imaging was never made a practically usable method and has never been used in what is considered MR imaging as we know it today. His 1972 patent never described an imaging device but a method of "detecting" cancer, more of a Geiger counter approach for cancer 'detection'.

His patent followed on the heels of rumors already floating throughout the scientific community of Lauterbur's proposed idea of using NMR 'in vivo' (still in the human body, an imaging device) rather than Damadian's idea to use NMR as a 'in vitro' (or excised tissue) technique for differentiating cancerous from normal tissue. Damadian has continually argued that was what he meant. Damadian may have inspired Lauterbur's idea but Damadian did not invent MRI and a careful review of Damadian's patent does not support his arguments (the title of the patent states DETECTING). His 'First body MRI' on July 3, 1977 was not actually the first MRI, it was his first attempt at a technique which was un-usable and ultimately abandoned. His machine is now in the Smithsonian Institution. As late as 1982, there were a handful of MRI scanners in the entire United States, today there are thousands.

Fonar Corporation

In 1978, Damadian formed his own company, Fonar[15] (which stood for "field focused nuclear magnetic resonance"), for the production of MRI scanners, and in 1980, he produced the first commercial one. Damadian's "focused field" technology proved less effective than Lauterbur's gradient approach. His scanner, named "Indomitable," failed to sell. Fonar eventually abandoned Damadian's technique in favour of the methods adopted by Lauterbur and Mansfield.[16] Damadian and Fonar enforced the royalties on patents held by Damadian.[17] They settled with many large companies, but a case against General Electric went to the Federal Circuit, which upheld a $129 million ruling against GE for violation of Damadian's patents.[18] Damadian says that the judgment money has all been put back into Fonar for research and development purposes.

Damadian is the company's largest shareholder, with 8% of stock worth $6.5 million.[7] Despite owning only 8% of the stock, he maintains almost 100% control of the company through a separate class of shares (Class C) that only Damadian controls 2007.[19] Damadian later collaborated with Wilson Greatbatch, one early developer of the implantable pacemaker, to develop an MRI-compatible pacemaker. He invented a stand-up MRI system and has 15 MRI scanning centers across the United States. There are a number of independent MRI centers that use this technology both in the U.S. and around the world. The company conceived and built the world's first Upright Multi-Positional MRI, which was recognized as The Invention of the Year in 2007 by the Intellectual Properties Owners Association Education Foundation.[20]

Awards and honors

Damadian received a National Medal of Technology in 1988 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame[9] in 1989. His original MRI full-body scanner was given to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1980s and is now on loan and on display at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Ohio.[21] In 2001, the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program bestowed its $100,000 Lifetime Achievement Award on Damadian as "the man who invented the MRI scanner."[3] The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia gave its recognition of Damadian's work on MRI with the Bower Award in Business Leadership. He was named the Knights of Vartan 2003 "Man of the Year." In September 2003, he was honored with the Innovation Award in Bioscience from The Economist.[21]

Nobel Prize controversy

In 2003, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield for their discoveries related to MRI. Although Nobel rules allow for the award to be shared by up to three recipients, Damadian was not given the prize. The controversy over who played what part in the development of the MRI had gone on for years prior to the Nobel announcement, and many in the scientific community felt that the Nobel had not been awarded for the MRI for so long due to debate over Damadian's role in its development.[10]

Damadian said that credit should go to "me, and then Lauterbur," and Lauterbur felt that only he should get credit. In 1997 the National Academy of Sciences commissioned a timeline of MRI milestones, and four of the 12 in an initial draft were attributed to Damadian. At the final publication in 2001, longer than any other publication in the series had ever been taken, none of the milestones were attributed to Damadian. The text said that Damadian's methods had "not proved clinically reliable in detecting or diagnosing cancer."[10] After Damadian's lawyers sent the NAS a threatening letter, the text on the NAS website was revised, but not to Damadian's satisfaction. Damadian said in 2002, "If I had not been born, would MRI have existed? I don't think so. If Lauterbur had not been born? I would have gotten there. Eventually."[10]

The New York Times wrote:

The issue has been the subject of a dispute between Dr. Damadian and Dr. Lauterbur and has been known for years in academic circles, with some fearing that the Nobel committee would steer clear of magnetic resonance imaging altogether because of the Swedes' supposed distaste for controversial discoveries. Dr. Lauterbur, 74, is not in good health, and the committee may have decided that its prize, which cannot be given posthumously, needed to be awarded for the discovery now or never.".[18]

After the announcement of Lauterbur and Mansfield's Nobels, between October and November 2003, an ad hoc group called "The Friends of Raymond Damadian" (formed by Damadian's company, FONAR[22]),), took out full-page advertisements in The New York Times twice, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and one of the largest newspapers in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter protesting his exclusion with the headline "The Shameful Wrong That Must Be Righted"[23] in an attempt to get the Nobel Committee to change its mind and grant him a share of the Prize.[7][24] Apparently unaware that the decision to award a Nobel Prize is final and with no possibility for appeal, Damadian suggested that Lauterbur and Mansfield should have rejected the Nobel Prize unless Damadian was given joint recognition. Supporting Damadian were various MRI experts including John Throck Watson, Eugene Feigelson, V. Adrian Parsegian, Dr. David Stark and James Mattson. New York Times columnist Horace Freeland Judson criticised this behavior, noting that there is "no Nobel Prize for whining" and that many deserving candidates who may have had better claims than Damadian, such as Lise Meitner, Oswald Avery and Jocelyn Bell, had been previously denied a share of the Nobel.[25]

Others point out that while Damadian had hypothesized that NMR relaxation times might be used to detect cancer, he did not develop (nor did he suggest) the current way of creating images.[13] Since the Nobel Prize was awarded to Lauterbur and Mansfield for the development of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Damadian's exclusion makes more sense. Some felt that research scientists sided with Lauterbur because he was one of their own, while Damadian was a physician who had profited greatly from his early patents.[10] Charles Springer, an expert in MRI at Oregon Health and Science University, said that if a poll was taken of the academic community, most would agree with the Nobel Committee's conclusions.[18] Others said that Damadian had not acted in the manner of a scientist on many occasions, which alienated the academic community, including when he held a 1977 press conference to announce that his full-body scanner could detect cancer anywhere in the body. While the New York Times articles cites that in modern uses, MRI is not usually used for diagnosis but for location of tumors already diagnosed,[18] this is a gross oversimplification of the utility of the technique. Indeed, today MRI makes diagnoses not possible by any other means (for example, within the field of neuroradiology).[26]

Some consider Damadian to be a controversial figure in academic circles, for his exuberant behavior at conferences and the fact that he is a young earth creationist.[27][28] And also a member of the Technical Advisory Board of the Institute for Creation Research.[29]

Philosopher Michael Ruse writing for the Metanexus Institute suggested that Damadian might have been denied a Nobel prize because of his creationist views, saying:

I cringe at the thought that Raymond Damadian was refused his just honor because of his religious beliefs. Having silly ideas in one field is no good reason to deny merit for great ideas in another field. Apart from the fact that this time the Creation Scientists will think that there is good reason to think that they are the objects of unfair treatment at the hands of the scientific community.| M. Ruse[30]

Damadian himself said, "Before this happened, nobody ever said to me 'They will not give you the Nobel Prize for Medicine because you are a creation scientist'. If people were actively campaigning against me because of that, I never knew it."[9]

See also


  • James Mattson and Merrill Simon. The Pioneers of NMR and Magnetic Resonance in Medicine: The Story of MRI. Jericho & New York: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9619243-1-4.
  • Donald P. Hollis. "Abusing Cancer Science: The Truth About NMR and Cancer", Chehalis, WA: Strawberry Fields Press, 1987. ISBN 0-942033-15-9.
  • Doug Sharp and Jerry Bergman. Persuaded by the Evidence: True Stories of Faith, Science, and the Power of a Creator, 2008. ISBN 0-89051-545-X

External links

  • FONAR corporate website
  • "Nobel Prizefight"
  • The National Science Foundation's history of MRI. The author cites personal interviews with the principals.
  • Cope's 1969 paper on NMR of brain and muscle. Links to early references.
  • "Patent Fights Aplenty for M.R.I. Pioneer" New York Times Article on Damadian.
  • Shivaprasad M Khened, MRI: A Noble Diagnostic Medical Tool and a Window to the Brain and Body

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