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Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and posted online at:
on April 29, 2004

Editorials & Commentory

Finding resonance and magnetism
in the past and the future

Raymond V. Damadian is in Philadelphia tonight to receive the 2004 Bower Award and Prize, administered by the Franklin Institute. The award recognizes Damadian's role in the invention of magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), which has become an essential tool in diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases. Below, Damadian reflects on the history and promise of the technology he brought to birth.

This award gives me pause to reflect on what already has been accomplished, and, more important, what is yet to come. That is perhaps the greatest value of awards: not only their recognition of the past, but also the opportunity to appreciate the promise the future holds.

The first nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signal was detected in 1938 at Columbia University. An NMR instrument that performed spectroscopy of chemical samples was developed and began appearing in chemistry laboratories in the 1950s. In 1969, I first proposed expanding the use of this device to medicine. The following year, I discovered that cancerous tissues and normal tissues would provide drastically different signals when scanned with NMR. This would prove to be the key discovery that enabled the MRI revolution. While the X-ray is quite good for looking at solid structures like bone, its ability to differentiate soft tissue, like that found in the vital organs, is very limited.

We set out to build a magnetic resonance scanner big enough to fit a human being inside. Skeptics were numerous. One memorable reaction was that this project was "visionary nonsense."

We proved them all wrong. On July 3, 1977, at 4:45 a.m., our hand-built MRI machine, which we we called Indomitable, produced a beautiful scan of the cross-section of a human chest. Since that thrilling morning, more than 500 million patients have been scanned by the MRI, saving millions of lives. MRI has found application in orthopedics, sports and emergency medicine, vascular medicine, and countless other fields. Most important, MRI has become a leading weapon in the war on cancer.

What of the future? Imagine an MRI machine that allows a patient to stand while being scanned. Or imagine an entire operating suite, large enough for a team of doctors and nurses, fully inside a giant MRI machine. That future is now. Machines like these have been developed by FONAR, my company, and are well on the way to the marketplace. The Stand-Up MRI can scan the patient in weight-bearing positions of standing, flexion, extension, bending, sitting or the traditional lie-down position. In addition, our MRI Operating Room, in development, will allow doctors to perform delicate, life-saving surgeries with continuous MRI scanning while inside the MRI scanner and provide unthinkable surgical accuracy.

This week in Philadelphia has indeed been a great chance both to reflect and to look forward. A special highlight was welcoming hundreds of young Franklin Institute visitors into FONAR's show room. I shared with them the lessons I have learned in my own long journey to success: Never let detractors limit you. Never let the inventive spirit perish. Wonder about your world and explore the limits of human inspiration. And above all else, never stop learning.

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