Issue Date: June 3, 2013
Illuminating Facts About MRI
The reviewer of Morton Meyers’ book “Prize Fight: The Race and the Rivalry to be the First in Science” has taken everything regarding Meyers’ case study of the development of medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as true (C&EN, Sept. 17, 2012, page 33). Meyers writes that Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield should not have received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing MRI.
Rather, Meyers credits Raymond Dama-dian for inventing MRI based on Damadian’s 1971 paper in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.171.3976.1151). Nothing in this paper can be extrapolated to show that magnetic field gradients can measure distances and/or concentration gradients of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) active nuclei. These two concepts were developed in England by Mansfield and a number of English workers, and in the U.S. by Lauterbur.
From 1966 to 1970, Lauterbur was a consultant for me at the Jet Propulsion Lab. On his visits, Lauterbur told me and others about his ideas and early NMR experiments measuring distances and proton concentration gradients. He told us that he hoped to develop these concepts into medical and biological imaging techniques. He could not get funding to pursue this work, however, as no one believed his ideas. Still, Lauterbur’s ideas were some years ahead of Damadian’s in terms of the concept of using MRI for medical imaging.
Lauterbur’s progress in developing MRI was reported at ENC (Experimental NMR Conference) meetings at Carnegie Mellon University from 1966 to 1972. The proceedings were never published, but at one of these meetings Lauterbur presented the first NMR images of a living organism: a small clam in which various types of tissue and bodily compartments could be seen.
Just what evidence does Meyers have for the claim in his book that Lauterbur tried to prevent Damadian from receiving NIH funding? In fact, for several years Lauterbur could not get funding, whereas Damadian received generous funding from NIH.
When Lauterbur was at SUNY Stony Brook and tried to get the radiology department involved in MRI, he was thwarted by Meyers. Thus, one can wonder about Meyers’ motives in attacking Lauterbur in his book. One is left to ponder the value of this book as a seminal read on scientists’ motivations, cronyism, and dishonorable tactics.
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