Raymond Damadian, creator of the first MRI machine, dies at 86


Raymond Damadian, who helped revolutionize medical diagnostics by developing the first magnetic resonance imaging device and who later became so embittered after the Nobel Prize was awarded to two other pioneers of MRI technology that he published full-page newspaper ads denouncing the decision, died August 3 at his home in Woodbury, NY. He was 86 years old.

The death was announced in a statement from Fonar Corp., which Dr. Damadian founded in 1978 after obtaining a patent for the concept of MRI of using radio waves from atoms to build images of soft tissue. No cause was given.

Dr. Damadian is credited with helping to lay the groundwork for one of the major advances in the modern medical toolkit, providing the ability to detect potentially cancerous tumors and observe internal organs without invasive procedures or radiation. X-rays or CT scans. Since MRI experiments in the 1970s, the systems have become an essential part of medical testing worldwide.

Dr. Damadian was often at odds with the wider medical community, earning a reputation as a zealous self-promoter and loner eccentric who tried an initial MRI test on himself while squirming through the coils of a prototype machine he dubbed “Indomitable”. .” A PBS biographical sketch describes him as a brilliant innovator but, at times, off-putting with an “abrasive and aggressive personality”.

He fought companies such as Johnson & Johnson for alleged patent violations and broke with established science to seemingly embrace biblical creationism over evolution. In 2015 he co-wrote “Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI” which blended his work with his views on faith.

The biggest split came after the 2003 Nobel Prize in Science was awarded to Paul C. Lauterbur of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in Britain for their work on the development of MRI. He was outraged at being ignored.

He began a public campaign decrying the Nobel decision and openly lobbying for the prize, which he said should rightly include him.

“The shameful wrong that must be righted,” said a full-page ad by Dr. Damadian that appeared in The Washington Post and other major newspapers around the world. At the bottom was a clip and email coupon, addressed to the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, requesting that Dr. Damadian be added to the award. The ad featured an image of the Nobel Prize upside down.

The Nobel Committee did not change its decision.

“To wake up Monday morning and see that I’ve been erased from history,” he told the New York Times after the Nobel Prize was announced in Stockholm. “It’s a torment that I can neither bear nor live with.”

Lauterbur and Mansfield were instrumental in putting MRI technology into practice; Lauterbur for devising how to turn radio signals into usable images, and Mansfield for mathematical techniques for interpreting data. Dr. Damadian’s early work, his colleagues said, had an important but more limited goal: to explore how cancer cells produced different radio signatures than normal cells after being attracted to a magnetic field.

It was nonetheless a significant breakthrough, and his call for Nobel Prize recognition had supporters among MRI experts. Still, Dr. Damadian’s blunt style may have worked against him, some colleagues said.

“A more likely reason why Dr. Damadian did not win the award has to do with his less than subtle self-promotional activities over the past 20 years,” wrote University of California professor William G. Bradley. in San. Diego, in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. “Because I have known Raymond Damadian for 20 years and consider him a friend, I have always wondered why a brilliant scientist needed to resort to relatively provocative tactics to be appreciated.”

Raymond Vahan Damadian was born in Manhattan on March 16, 1936 and grew up in Queens. His father, an ethnic Armenian immigrant, was a photo engraver at the World-Telegram in New York; his mother was an accountant.

Dr. Damadian had an early interest in music and studied the violin with some childhood lessons at the Juilliard School. He decided to switch to medicine after winning a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, graduating in 1956. He earned a medical degree in 1960 from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

He began experimenting with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology, a technique discovered in the late 1930s in which a constant magnetic field is used to measure radio waves from atomic nuclei. At the time, it was used on a small scale to identify chemical compositions.

Dr. Damadian, then at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn (now SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University), came up with the idea of ​​a full body scanner. He postulated that he would pick up different radio signatures between normal tissue and cancerous sites.

“I thought if we could do on a human what we just did on this test tube, maybe we could build a scanner that would go on the body to track down cancer.” he told Inc. magazine in 2011. “It was kind of absurd. But I had hope.

In June 1970, he packed lab rats in his car and drove to an NMR lab in Pittsburgh, publishing the cancer detection results in Science the following year. With a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Damadian began building the first body scanner even before the term MRI was coined. His patent application shows the general structure of the modern machine with magnetic coils surrounding a bed for the patient.

In the summer of 1977, Dr. Damadian was ready to test the 1.5 ton machine (now at the Smithsonian Institution). He stirred inside, but there was no reading.

“Honestly, I was too big for that reel,” he said. He turned to lab assistant Lawrence Minkoff. On July 3, 1977, Dr. Damadian triumphantly announced the first MRI image, a portion of Minkoff’s chest showing his heart, lungs, and other organs.

Yet other battles were beginning.

Some colleagues thought Dr Damadian was overstating the moment, including his press release that he had ‘perfected’ cancer detection even before there were human trials. Dr Damadian countered that he had used MRI technology to find cancer cells in rats and had studied cancerous tissue taken from humans.

He struggled to secure new grants and turned to private investors, who offered the seed capital to found Fonar in Melville, NY, an acronym constructed from Field Focused Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. It produced its first commercial MRI machine, QED 80, in 1980.

At the same time, others were entering the market using their own variations of the original NMR technology. Dr. Damadian saw it as patent theft.

It lost a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in 1986, but in 1997 a federal appeals court upheld a more than $100 million decision against General Electric for patent infringement. Other companies, including Germany’s Siemens and Japan’s Hitachi, have reached out-of-court settlements with Dr. Damadian and Fonar.

The money helped Fonar keep going. The company then introduced innovations such as MRI machines that allow the patient to sit up straight. Dr. Damadian has also contributed to the development of a pacemaker compatible with MRI technology.

His wife of 60 years, Donna Terry, died in 2020. Survivors include three children, Keira Reinmund, Jevan Damadian and Timothy Damadian, who is Fonar’s chief executive; a sister; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Despite his anger over the Nobel decision, Dr. Damadian received a series of awards for his work on MRI. Upon his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989, he used the ceremony in Akron, Ohio to complain about his patent fights.

“Patents don’t work,” he said. “I now have to compete with the Japanese in a market that I created with my own invention.”


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