Lemelson-MIT Program
Who We Are Awards Outreach News
Invention Dimension Search Site Map Contact Us

Press Releases


Raymond Damadian Invented MRI Machine for Scanning Human Body–Enabled Early Detection of Cancer and other Diseases

New York, NY, April 24, 2001 – The man who invented the MR scanner, a non-invasive diagnostic tool used for the early detection of cancer and other diseases, was today named winner of the seventh annual Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for invention and innovation. Dr. Raymond Damadian, the pioneer of magnetic resonance scanning technology, is being recognized for his contributions to diagnostic medicine.

Dr. Damadian wrote his first paper about his proposed MR scanner in 1971 and received a pioneer patent in 1972. Since his first scan of the human body in 1977, MRI technology has grown into a $5 billion per year industry and is universally recognized as the premier diagnostic imaging method. It detects diseased tissue more efficiently, accurately and safely than other means. MR machines use radio signals emitted from the body's cells to enable instant mapping and analysis of tissue. Data collected by MR scanners can be transformed into images for visual diagnosis or analyzed for chemical composition.

Although the technology used in Damadian's machine — nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR or MR), where harmless magnetic fields and radio waves cause atoms to emit tiny, detectable radio signals — had existed for 25 years, Damadian was the first to successfully apply the physics of NMR to clinical medicine.

In 1971, Damadian demonstrated for the first time that the MR signal could overcome one of medicine's longstanding deficiencies — the inability of the x-ray to create the contrast needed to see the body's vital organs. Citing this contrast deficiency in a paper published in Science, Damadian proposed that the profound differences between the decay rate of the MR signal of soft tissues and the decay rate of the MR signal of cancerous tissues had the potential to address this long-standing, critical need in medicine. He proposed the creation of a new body scanner based on the MR signal and on his discovery of the critical differences in the MR signals that existed among the body's vital tissues. The images of the interior of the human body that resulted from Damadian's work were far superior in detail to those of existing X-ray devices because the MR could generate the tissue contrast that was missing in x-ray pictures. This is of particular importance because the majority of fatal diseases occur within the body's soft tissue.

As with any groundbreaking invention, Damadian's MR scanner was met with great skepticism. "What I learned in the process of developing the MR scanner was that criticism is an integral part of the process and always has been," comments Damadian. "The bolder the initiative, the harsher the criticism."

Damadian, a violin student who left the Juilliard School of Music to pursue a medical education, first became interested in medicine at the age of ten, after witnessing his grandmother's pain and suffering from cancer. He chose medical research over clinical practice because he believed that carefully executed experiments could result in major medical contributions with the potential to benefit many people. Damadian felt that research would allow him to help many millions of people, rather than the thousands he would be able to beneficially reach in the day-to-day practice of medicine.

Today, Damadian oversees FONAR Corporation, the Melville, NY-based company he formed in 1978 to produce and market his MRI scanner. After twenty-three years in business, FONAR continues to research and develop, manufacture, sell and ship its own MRI scanners.

top of page

FONAR's recent MRI innovations include a full-sized MRI operating room that allows unrestricted 360-degree access to the patient and ample space for an entire surgical team and their equipment, and the Stand-Up MRI — the only scanner to allow MRI patients to simply walk in and be scanned while standing. The revolutionary design of the Stand-Up MRI™ allows all parts of the body to be scanned in the weight-bearing position.

"Raymond Damadian's unwavering faith in his ideas enabled him to forge ahead amidst enormous skepticism, and to invent a machine that has transformed the field of diagnostic medicine. Jerry Lemelson would have been elated to see this 'inventor's inventor' being recognized through the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award," says Lester C. Thurow, Lemelson-MIT Prize Board chairman.

Other recipients of the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award include such distinguished inventors as Al Gross, wireless pioneer who invented the walkie-talkie and pager; Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar® (used in a variety of products from bullet-proof vests to airplane bodies); Wilson Greatbatch, creator of the implantable cardiac pacemaker (the first successful major biomedical device); and Gertrude Elion, innovator of drugs that combat cancer and facilitate organ transplantation between non-related donors.

The Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award is conferred annually by the Lemelson-MIT Program, which recognizes the nation's most talented inventors and innovators and promotes living role models in the fields of science, engineering, medicine and entrepreneurship in the hope of encouraging future generations to follow their example. Dr. Damadian will be formally presented with the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award on Wednesday, April 25, at a special ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This year the ceremony will be held in conjunction with "Nobel Week," a series of programs honoring the centennial of the Nobel Prizes, hosted by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards, including the world's largest for invention — the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Read more about Dr. Damadian.

top of page