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Behind the picture: The humble beginnings of MRI

by Guest Author on 10 Jan 2013

One of the joys of turning 100 is that you have a fair few photos to look back on. As part of the research for the MRC Centenary Timeline, we’ve been looking through the archives and finding some gems, including this picture of the team behind some of the first MRI scans of the entire body.

The team behind some of the first whole-body MRI scans (Copyright: Sir Peter Mansfield)

The team behind some of the first whole-body MRI scans (Copyright: Sir Peter Mansfield)

He might look like a man lying on a wallpaper pasting-table but in fact Barry Hill, then a technician in the Department of Physics at the University of Nottingham, is reclining atop state-of-the-art MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) equipment.

This photo, tentatively dated to 1980, shows Sir Peter Mansfield (in shirt and tie) and his colleagues a couple of years after they completed their first MRI whole-body scans (of Sir Peter himself). They’d completed the first MRI images of living tissue — the fingers of research student Andrew Maudsley — in 1976.

The team made all of the equipment, aside from the magnet, which was built by Oxford Instruments. These days more advanced MRI scanners (with the doughnut-shaped magnet still recognisable) are found in most major hospitals and are used to diagnose diseases by producing detailed images of tissue and bone. Researchers also use a version of MRI called functional MRI to track brain activity.

In case you’re wondering about Barry’s attire for the scan, as Peter Morris (far left) puts it: “Sir Peter wore shirt and tie, the rest of us wore jumpers!”

Mansfield was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Paul Lauterbur, who independently developed MRI technology) and the MRC Millennium Medal in 2009, for his work in the development of MRI.

You can watch a video about the development of MRI scanning on the MRC YouTube page.

Katherine Nightingale

This photo is just one of the many images featured in the MRC Centenary Timeline, which can be found on our Centenary website. Unveiled this week, the timeline covers highlights in the MRC’s history, from the discovery of the structure of DNA to the finding that giving pregnant women folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects. 



It would be appropriate to include Raymond Damadian, MD in a article about the invention of MRI.

While Lauterbur and Mansfield were basic scientists, Raymond V. Damadian (b. 1936) was a physician, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York – Brooklyn (Downstate). He looked at NMR from a different and original perspective — as a phenomenon that might be used to probe the body and diagnose human disease. In one of his landmark early papers (Science, 1971) Damadian demonstrated that cancer cells had longer T1 and T2 values than normal cells. In 1972 he filed a US patent application for an apparatus and method to detect cancer in tissue.

author avatar by Ron Averitt on 18-Oct-2019 20:31

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