Dr. Raymond Damadian performed the first human MRI scan in 1977 on this early prototype, now on dis- play in the Hall of Medical Scienc- es at the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Raymond Damadian was 10 years old when he watched his grandmother die of breast cancer, but he turned the negative into a positive like few others.

It was then that he made detecting cancer his life’s work, founded Melville-based Fonar Corporation and invented the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner in the 1970s. Ten years ago, Damadian, now 81, improved upon his invention when he introduced the stand-up MRI machine.

“Without Damadian’s discovery, it could not be known that serious diseases like cancer could be detected by an NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance, the prior term used for the MRI] scanner,” said James Mattson, author of The Pioneers of NMR and Magnetic Resonance in Medicine: The Story of MRI. “Or that tissue NMR signals possessed sufficient contract to create medically useful images.”

Damadian also operates his own MRI scanning office, Stand-up MRI of Melville, P.C., as an internist on Long Island. But Damadian didn’t always study medicine. He originally studied math and science as a violin student at Juilliard School of Music when he was 15.

After graduating with a degree in mathematics, he went to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he received his medical degree. Then, in 1971 Damadian invented the MRI as a professor at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center. He was using NMR technologies to study halophiles, a form of bacteria and potassium ions in cells.

He realized that this technology could be used to determine differences in cells. Damadian then tried using the same technology on human tissues and realized that there was a significant difference in the magnetic signals sent between normal tissues and cancerous ones.

Subsequently, on July 3, 1977, the first MRI body scan was conducted on a human. It took five hours to produce one image of the patient. After the scan, Damadian and his partner, Dr. Michael Goldsmith, named the machine “Indomitable,” a reference to their struggle to develop the technology.

Damadian has since racked up honors for the discovery. But in 2003, the Nobel Prize for the MRI went to Paul Lauterbur, a professor of chemistry at Stony Brook University, and another scientist. The debate over who invented the MRI first is unsettled.

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