Raymond Damadian, inventor of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, conducted pioneering research into this technology in the 1960s and 1970s and created a company that builds and distributes MRI machines.
Damadian was born in Queens, New York, in 1936. He studied violin at the Julliard School of Music in New York and won a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin at age 16. He received a B.S. in mathematics and then entered medicine, earning an M.D. from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1960. After post-graduate residencies and fellowships at Washington University and Harvard University, Damadian served in the Air Force and joined the faculty at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
His experiments with sodium and potassium in living cells led him to begin looking at nuclear magnetic resonance. In 1969, he proposed a magnetic resonance body scanner. In a March 1971 article published in the journal Science, he described significant differences in the magnetic resonance signals emitted by cancerous cells and healthy tissue.
He filed his first patents for creating a scanner in 1971, but his early research was met with skepticism by the scientific community. With a team of graduate students at SUNY Downstate, Damadian developed the first full-body MRI scanner, dubbed the Indomitable. In July 1977, Damadian and his colleagues created the first MRI scan of the human body, providing a clear image of the heart, lungs and chest.
He formed a company, FONAR, in 1978 to manufacture commercial MRI scanners, sparking the beginnings of a billion dollar industry. Large medical technology companies like General Electric soon followed his lead. Damadian contended that they were infringing on his 63 patents; following a series of lawsuits, his competitors settled and entered into a series of licensing agreements. FONAR continued to develop new MRI technologies, including a stand-up MRI suitable for patients uncomfortable in traditional MRI chambers or whose injuries require them to assume weight-bearing positions to be symptomatic.
Damadian suffered a serious blow in 2003, when the Nobel Prize in Medicine was presented to two rival innovators in the field of MRI technology, Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield. Not only did the Nobel committee fail to include Damadian in sharing the award, but Damadian contended that Lauterbur, who also worked at SUNY, knew of Damadian’s research in 1971, a year before Lauterbur had published his own theories on magnetic resonance in the journal Nature. Damadian took the unusual step of publishing a public protest of the Nobel committee’s decision in a number of national newspapers.
Still, Damadian’s contributions to medical technology are unlikely to be forgotten. He received the 2001 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Technology in 1988, and joined the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989.