How long has it been since there has been a true medical breakthrough? What comes to mind with you are asked what the most influential medical breakthrough was? Penicillin? The polio vaccine? The CT scanner? According to attorney Charles Franklin, the MRI has been one of the most influential breakthroughs of the past 50 years. Opinions may vary but the MRI machine has been one of the greatest diagnostic machines for medical professionals. Mr. Franklin still feels it still has room for improvement.
As a personal injury attorney, I see victims of car accidents on a daily basis. Many times a client will come to me with pain that just will not go away. They may appear fine on the outside, no cuts or bruises but complain of severe back or neck pain. The story is almost always the same. I am told they have been to multiple doctors after their accident but nobody is able to figure out what the problem is. It is frustrating because these people are stacking up medical bills from a car accident that was not their fault. My job is to present evidence to a judge and jury showing that my client is indeed injured and in need of compensation. If I have a doctor telling the jury that he has not found anything physically wrong with my client it makes the case looks bad. Most people do not just lie about physical pain. Usually the problem is not figured out until they are sent to an orthopedic specialist who schedules them a MRI scan that the problem is determined. Hairline fractures in vertebrae are often missed by a standard radiography machine and usually do not cause external bruising.
What do you think needs to be improved about the MRI?
The biggest complaint I hear from people feeling claustrophobic and the noise of the machine. You are basically are shoved into a white tube while you hear clunking as the machine scans your body. It is still safer than a CT scanner because no radiation is used. I would like to see research done on reducing the physical size of the machine and the cost. I have seen many hospitals charge $2500 per scan and it is common for multiple scans to be performed. I practice personal injury law in Florida, a no fault state where personal injury protection insurance is required by all drivers. My clients have access to 10k in PIP insurance but that money is depleted quickly after just two scans –and that’s just for the diagnostics, not treatment.
You were thinking of starting a funding a research project?
Yes. I think if we can get enough money going to pay engineers for a think tank some actual progress can be made. The problem is only large companies like GE or Toshiba are able to produce these machines. So yes, I have been looking to set up a fund and match whatever is donated to it. Right now I am looking for motivated individuals to help create a video that will entice others to donate to the project. If successful, this could potentially benefit healthcare patients around the world. I would like to see the cost of these machines brought down from 1.4 million to somewhere around two hundred thousand. That way hospitals would not have to charge outrageous prices to eventually pay for the machine before it becomes out dated.
A brief history of the MRI:
In 1886 Nikola Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field and patented his discovery in 1888. This concept is the backbone of how the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine came to be. The magnetic field strength is measured in Tesla units. This unit was named after Nikola in 1956 by the International Electro-technical Commission-Committee of Action. The stronger the magnetic field the more Tesla is produced. All MRI strengths are labeled in Tesla. The next step in history toward the invention of the MRI was made in 1937 by Isidor I. Rabi when discovered nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Rabi found that atomic nuclei show where they are by taking in or expelling radio waves after being exposed to a large magnetic field.
Although Rabi discovered the concept of NMR he never specifically scanned for the composition of chemicals. The first NMR technique was published by Physical Review in 1946 from the efforts of Felix Bloch. Apparently at the same time American physicist Edward Purcell had discovered the same thing. They both found new techniques to identify chemicals and compounds using NMR technology and were mutually awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1952. This would not be the last time the credit to the discovery of magnetism would be awarded to more than one person.
Enter chemist Paul Lauterbur and physician Raymond Damadian. Lauterbur had been using NMR for years before Damadian had. Damadian was the first to think of using NMR for humans in 1970 but he initially had not thought of producing an image from this technique. He wanted to use NMR to distinguish cancerous tissue from regular tissue without exposing the patient to radiation. Since cancerous tissue holds more water it sends out radio signals for a longer period of time when exposed to a large magnetic field. His findings were published in the journal Science in March of 1971 in which he claimed a large scanner for cancer could be build. Later that summer Lauterbur outlined a way to use NMR to produce a 2D image of tissue. In autumn of 1972 Lauterbur successfully scanned two test tubes and a clam using the NMR technique and magnetic field gradients to map out points to produce an image.
Meanwhile Damadian had been working on his full body scanner machine. He filed for a patent for the “apparatus and method for detecting cancer in tissue” in 1972 and was granted it in 1974. Damadian’s first prototype scanner was ready for testing in 1977. He one of his graduate students Mike Goldsmith put together a wearable antenna coil using copper wire, cardboard and capacitors. The first successful full body scan was done to graduate student Larry Minkoff and the group was able to construct a image using colored pencils from the 106 data points.
In 1978 Peter Mansfield found that fast imaging could be done by creating the MRI protocol echo-planar imaging. That year Mansfield presented the first human image of his own abdomen. Damadian went on to produce the first commercial MRI scanners with his company FONAR in 1980. Other companies like Toshiba, Siemens, and General Electric began manufacturing and selling MRI scanners since the 1980’s. However in 1997 Damadian’s company FONAR was awarded 128 million dollars in from each of these companies due to patent infringement. In 2003 the Nobel Prize was awarded to Lauterbur and Mansfield for their contributions leading to the development of the MRI.
In comparison here is a video of a CT scanner without the cover.