Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI allows physicians to see and diagnose soft tissue without surgery.


MRI is one of these cases where everybody argues somebody else invented it for patent priority. However, courts and historians find that physician Raymond Damadian was first to make an MRI that scans people (prior MRI’s would scan small pieces of organic material).

Damadian went on to form Fonar Corp. They failed to sell working MRI machines but made a lot of money via patent litigation. Eventually, Fonar won a $128.7 million patent infringement case against GE.

Nobel Fiasco

Despite a strong record, and agreement by most historians, the 2003 Nobel Prize for Medicine, for the MRI, went to Lauterbur and Mansfield.

Damadian argues, persuasively, their “innovation” is the application of his work. They renamed his machine but focused it primarily on the imaging, with a different name. Damadian named his machine Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR). Scientists believe the word “nuclear” would scare patients so renamed it Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Radiologists thought the word “imaging” to be important, but the machine is the same.

Lauterbur couldn’t stand Damadian and announced he would reject a Nobel Prize if asked to share it with him. Despite a surly personality, Lauterbur did figure out how to aim the MRI to different places and also how to transform the cellular resonance (the “R”) into the images we associate with MRI’s today. Lauterbur also claims to have created the idea of a whole-body scanner but scientists widely believe that Damadian announced the idea first. Damadian’s full-body MRI scanner is a Smithsonian exhibit as the first MRI machine.

Mansfield acted much more collegial, congratulating Damadian on his first scan and giving him credit (Mansfield created the second scan).

Damadian Invented MRI

Damadian first started experimenting with MRI in 1971 but it wasn’t until Jul. 3, 1977, that he ran the first successful scan. The images were much cruder by then more abundant CT scanners. What people didn’t realize is how much more an MRI would eventually see.

The National Cancer Institute had withdrawn its support of Damadian, quoting an NCI spokesman, Larry Blaser: “We don’t look on nuclear magnetic resonance as a promising area of diagnosis.” (Evans)