Development of whole-body magnetic resonance imaging; first-ever large-scale MRI scan of human subject.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center


Raymond V. Damadian, MD, SUNY Downstate Medical Center.  Holds MRI patent (1972; upheld by Supreme Court in 1997) and National Medal of Technology (1988); member, National Inventors Hall of Fame (inducted 1989).


The development of MRI technology capable of scanning whole body images was transformative in medical diagnosis and practice. Damadian’s contributions include the original concept of using magnetic resonance imaging for whole-body scanning of living humans; the discovery of differences of proton T1 and T2 relaxations among normal tissues and between normal and cancerous tissues that provides the biological basis for MRI; and devising a scanning method used in construction of the first full-body human MRI machine in his laboratory at Downstate. Damadian’s first human whole-body scans provided convincing evidence that the technological hurdles of using MRI to scan structures the size of the human body could be surmounted to achieve soft-tissue detail and detect diseases like cancers in ways unattainable in x-ray CT scans. These first large-scale human scans initiated a shift of MRI development from scanning small structures in academic laboratories to massive industrial development of whole-body MRI machines.


Damadian served on the Downstate faculty between 1967 and 1978. During that time, Damadian showed that cancerous tissues generated distinct radio signals (Science, 1971); and that external scans of living organisms could generate magnetic resonance images capable of successfully detecting tumors (Science, 1976).  During the 70s, he constructed a human-sized scanner, called the “Indomitable,” in his laboratory from scratch. On July 3, 1977, he completed the first scan of a live human body: a five-hour, point by point scan of a chest. The image was reconstructed from interpolated signals using the campus mainframe computer. Damadian’s team then used Indomitable to obtain additional whole-body images of the human chest in normal patients and patients with oat-cell carcinoma, alveolar cell carcinoma, metastatic adenocarcinoma of the breast, and also abdominal scans (PhysiolChemPhys, 1978). At a watershed meeting of the Royal Society on magnetic resonance of biological systems in March 1979, Damadian presented a series of cross-sectional human images in normal and diseased patients at a time when other groups could only describe their ongoing efforts to build human scanners.  Damadian left Downstate in 1978 to devote his efforts to developing MRI instruments for clinical use. Although the early MRI methods of Damadian and others have since been supplanted by improved imaging techniques, the scientific basis of MRI remains the same – scanning differences of proton T1 and T2 relaxations as first described in isolated tissues in Damadian’s 1971 Science paper. The Indomitable has been on permanent display in the Hall of Medical Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution since 1986.