Raymond Vahan Damadian Biography (1936-)

physicist and entrepreneur

Raymond Damadian was the first to take a nuclear magnetic resonance image (MRI) image of a human body, and went on to develop the MRI as an indispensable tool for medicine.

At the age of 16 Damadian entered the University of Wisconsin, studying mathematics. He then went to medical school, believing it would afford him greateroptions than a traditional science education. He earned a medical degree atthe Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, and undertook postgraduate studies in nephrology (the study of the kidneys), biophysics, and physiological chemistry. In 1967 Damadian began a professorship at the State University of New Yorks Downstate Medical Center.

Damadian began investigating sodium and potassium in living cells, and was able to borrow time on a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine for his research. Nuclear magnetic resonances were discovered in 1938 by physicist IsidorI. Rabi. When nuclei are placed in a strong, unchanging magnetic field, theywill absorb electromagnetic waves of radio frequency in a way characteristicof each nucleus. They then re-emit waves at these frequencies, and the resulting spectrum is a clear indicator of the nucleuss identity. NMR provides a nondestructive, nonradioactive technique that can be used to measure the radiation spectra of cells and living organisms.

Damadian asked a crucial question: how would the NMR signal change between healthy cells and cancerous cells? Experimenting on mice, Damadian found in 1971 that the NMR signals persisted for much longer in cancerous cells than in healthy ones. The next year he filed a patent application for a machine that would use magnetic fields and radio waves to allow physicians to screen the human body for cancerous tumors. The patent was awarded to Damadian in 1974.

Damadian had grand claims for his machine, but most of his colleagues thoughtit to be outlandish, and he had difficulty obtaining research funds to buildit. After a disappointing rejection from the National Institute of Health, Damadian bypassed bureaucratic channels and wrote a letter directly to President Richard M. Nixon. Damadian's letter received attention, and he subsequently received a modest grant. When those funds disappeared Damadian was able tofind private backers. A crucial contribution was made by Paul C. Lauterbur, who in 1971 conceived the idea of using a changing magnetic field to produce information on the location of nuclei, allowing NMR information to be displayed as a pictorial map. In 1977 Damadian's groups first machine designed to make a magnetic resonate scan and viewable image of the human chest, Indomitable, was finished. On July 3, 1977 one of Damadians skinnier graduate students, Larry Minkoff, sat in the wrap-around machine for several hours, andthe first crude images were obtained, showing Minkoff's heart, lungs, and chest wall. Damadians machine began to receive popular attention.

Damadian began his own company, FONAR (Field fOcused Nuclear mAgnetic Resonance), to build MRI machines, and in 1980 the first commercial scanner was sold. The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in 1984. MRI imaging developed to its current point where doctors can see the interior of the bodyin minute detail, including not just tumors but many other small structures that do not register on x-rays.

Indomitable now sits in the Smithsonian Institute. Damadian and Lauterbur were awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1988, and Damadian was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989.

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