MRI Honors Conference

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Paul Kalis

On October 28th, the Honors Program held its annual Merit Fellowship Academic Conference, “Follow Your Passion.” Professionals, students, and professors shared information from their everyday lives, experiences, or professional insight.

Guest speakers included Dr. Raymond Damadian of the FONAR Corporation, located in Melville. Damadian invented the technology and method to safely and accurately scan the human body by creating the MRI machine (magnetic resonance imaging machine). In 1978, he was the first to perform a full-body scan of a human diagnosed with cancer.

“With an antenna outside the sample, I was able to pick up and measure potassium without ever going inside the sample,” said Damadian. “If we could do the same thing on a human body, we would be able to detect disease anywhere in the body and get its chemistry non-invasively. It’s gratifying to know that I am able to help a lot of people.”

Honors students are required to attend five lectures, which expose them to new ideas and ways of thinking. “When I put the conference theme out, his granddaughter, who is in the honors program, said I bet my grandfather would love to talk. He is the inventor of the MRI,” said Dr. Joan Digby, the director of the Honors Program and Merit Fellowship. “It’s rare for us to have an opportunity to talk to an inventor – somebody whose contributions to science, in this case, really almost impact everybody.”

Damadian spoke about “modern medical imaging technology: how it works and its role in the development in the MRI,” which explored the origins, development, and applications of Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

“When I asked him to speak at C.W. Post, he immediately and happily agreed,” said senior Brianna Damadian. “He has given many lectures and travels worldwide to give talks, but he seemed particularly excited about this one.”

In 1970, Damadian discovered that there is a difference in the magnetic resonance (MR) scanning of relaxation times between normal and abnormal body tissues. This was the foundation for the MRI industry.

“I knew that cancer tissue has an abnormal amount of potassium and sodium in it,” said Damadian. “I’ve never seen a situation where there was an abnormal about of potassium and sodium level not accompanied by an abnormal amount of water. Water has got hydrogen in it, and that was something we could easily measure by NMR (MRI).”

The Indomitable, the first MR scanner, produced the first human image. With the help of post-graduate assistants, Doctors Lawrence Minkoff and Michael Goldsmith, Damadian rendered Minkoff’s chest on July 3, 1977. In 1974, Damadian received the first patent in the field of MRI.

“We had some really technical Himalayas to overcome,” said Damadian. “All of a sudden, instead of having that antenna sticking right close to the sample, the antenna was far, far away. The signal to begin with was very weak. The second concern was how uniform the magnetic field was across the sample. If I had signals coming from inside that body coil and all of them were different frequencies, the frequencies destroy each other.”

In 1978, FONAR was incorporated. It is the oldest MR manufacturer in the industry. The world’s first commercial MRI was released in 1980. Since 1980, 300 OPEN MRIs and 150 UPRIGHT Multi-Position MRI scanners have been installed worldwide.

“The last problem was even if there was an abnormality to the cancer signal, it was not going to be satisfactory to tell the patient you have got a cancer in you somewhere,” said Damadian. “I now had the obligation to tell them where.”

In 1988, Damadian was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Ronald Reagan. It was jointly shared with Dr. Lauterbur. Lauterbur’s gradient approach took off, while Damadian’s “focused field” technology failed to sell. FONAR abandoned Damadian’s technique in favor of the new methods.

“Lauterbur used it, but it was not original to him,” said Damadian. “He was just employing the technology that was already well-known.”

In 1996, FONAR introduced the Stand-Up MRI, a whole-body MRI scanner. In this model, patients don’t feel closed-in; they can sit and watch TV.

“I am a Bible reader,” said Damadian. “I take scriptures that I read seriously, and I was tickled to see that there was a scripture saying ‘God hath made man upright.’ Why don’t we scan man they way he is made – scan him upright, -so we did.”

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered G.E. to pay FONAR $128,705,766 for the infringement of the patents.

“The arguments from one of the giant companies were that it detects cancer tissue, but it also detects other diseases,” said Damadian. “Our lawyers came back and said are you going to punish the guy because in his original discovery it detects more than we ever imagined. It detects everything.”

In 2003, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield for their discoveries related to MRI. Damadian was not credited due to the controversy over who played what part in the development.

“It was a very excellent, informative presentation and an honor to meet the man who developed the MRI,” said senior Steven Singer.

FONAR’s works-in-progress, OR-360º, a room-size MRI, will allow surgeons, assistants, and equipment to operate without obstruction inside the scanner’s magnet. It allows for unrestricted 360-degreee access to the patient

“We have one installed in England,” said Damadian. “They are doing some research; they are mainly doing imaging on it, but I am continuing to hope that we are going to be able to do MRI image-guided surgery.”

On October 5th, FONAR announced the major diagnostic breakthrough in multiple sclerosis achieved with advanced UPRIGHT MRI.

“Growing up around my grandfather was a blessing,” said Brianna Damadian. “He has been somebody that I look up to as a role model my entire life. He helped me with science fair projects, attended every school event of mine from the time I was in kindergarten until now, and always encouraged my academic endeavors.”

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