Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 7 News List

MRI inventors awarded Nobel Prize

INNER VISION An American and a Briton have been awarded the prestigious prize for discoveries leading to a technique that reveals images of the body's inner organs


American Paul Lauterbur and Briton Sir Peter Mansfield won this year's Nobel Prize for medicine yesterday for discoveries leading to a technique that reveals images of the body's inner organs.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, has become a routine method for medical diagnosis and treatment. It is used to examine almost all organs without need for surgery, but is especially valuable for detailed examination of the brain and spinal cord.

Lauterbur, 74, discovered the possibility of creating a two-dimensional picture by producing variations in a magnetic field. Lauterbur is at the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

Mansfield, 70, showed how the signals the body emits in response to the magnetic field could be mathematically analysed, which made it possible to develop a useful imaging technique. Mansfield also showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable. This became technically possible within medicine a decade later.

Mansfield is at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

MRI images "have an enormous impact on healthcare in the developed part of the world today," said Dr. Hans Ringertz, a Swedish specialist in diagnostic radiology.

Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each year. MRI represents "a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and research," the Assembly said.

Essentially, MRI turns hydrogen atoms in the body's tissues into tiny radio transmitters.

Hydrogen atoms are plentiful, because they're found in water molecules, which are very widespread in the body.

By tracking where those atoms are, an MRI machine can build up a picture of internal organs. It's a little like flying over a city at night and discerning its outlines by noticing where the lights are.

The prize includes a check for 10 million kronor, or US$1.3 million, and bestows a deeper sense of academic and medical integrity upon the winners.

Nobel Assembly Secretary Hans Joernvall said he called Lauterbur at his home in Urbana.

"He was very difficult to wake up, so I didn't get that much discussion, but he realized it and above all his wife realized it," he said.

There are no set guidelines for deciding who wins. Alfred Nobel, who endowed the awards that bear his name, simply said the winner "shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine."

The assembly, which selects the medicine prize winner, invites nominations from previous recipients, professors of medicine and other professionals worldwide before whittling down its choices in the fall.

The award for medicine opens a week of Nobel Prizes that culminates on Friday with the prestigious peace prize, the only one revealed in Oslo, Norway.

The physics award will be announced in the Swedish capital today and the chemistry and economics awards tomorrow.

South African writer J.M. Coet-zee was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday.

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