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Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physiology
to Developer of MRI Technology
AAAS member and fellow Paul C. Lauterbur, whose "discoveries led to the development of modern magnetic resonance imaging (MRI.)," has been awarded the 2003; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. A faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lauterbur will share the prize with Sir Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in England.
"Imaging of human internal organs with exact and non-invasive methods is very important for medical diagnosis, treatment and follow-up," notes the press release of the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institutet. "This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have made seminal discoveries concerning the use of magnetic resonance to visualize different structures. These discoveries have led to the development of modern magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, which represents a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and research."
The Nobel press release cited the importance of Lauterbur's discovery that it was possible to create a two-dimensional picture by adding gradients to a magnetic field. "By analysis of the characteristics of the emitted radio waves, he could determine their origin," the release says. "This made it possible to build up two-dimensional pictures of structures that could not be visualized with other methods…In 1973, he described how addition of gradient magnets to the main magnet made it possible to visualize a cross section of tubes with ordinary water surrounded by heavy water. No other imaging method can differentiate between ordinary and heavy water."
Mansfield was also credited with providing further insight into the use of gradients, and for showing how the signals he detected could quickly and effectively be analyzed and transformed into an image. "Mansfield also showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable," the release notes. "This became technically possible within medicine a decade later."
MRI scanners now allow physicians to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illness without invasive procedures or other potentially harmful techniques.
"Magnetic resonance imaging is now a routine method within medical diagnostics," the Nobel release says. "Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each year, and the method is still in rapid development. MRI is often superior to other imaging techniques and has significantly improved diagnostics in many diseases. MRI has replaced several invasive modes of examination and thereby reduced the risk and discomfort for many patients."
Lauterbur is a professor of chemistry in the University of Illinois' Center for Advanced Study. He is also a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.
7 October 2003