Lauterbur, Paul Christian




Paul Lauterbur, along with Peter Mansfield of England, is credited with the development of one of the most important diagnostic tool in the history of medicine-the magnetic resonance imaging machine, the MRI.

The MRI provides the results of the examination by way of an image that may be immediately reviewed by a physician. The MRI is used to provide images of all internal human organs in a highly precise and non-invasive fashion. MRI examinations present no known side effects to the subject.

Magnetic resonance (MR) technologies relied on advances in physics during the 1950s. First used in clinical trials in 1980, by the mid-1980s MR imaging was an accepted and widely used diagnostic technique. MRI scanners rely on the principles of atomic nuclear-spin resonance. Using strong magnetic fields and radio waves, MRI collect and correlate deflections caused by atoms into images of amazing detail. The resolution of MRI scanner is so high that they can be used to observe the individual plaques in multiple sclerosis.

The human body has a water content that constitutes approximately 66% of the body's total weight. Hydrogen atoms are therefore plentiful within the body due to their presence in water molecules. Lauterbur determined that the manner in which hydrogen atom nuclei oscillated (moved between two different points) in the presence of a strong magnetic field could be measured in a fashion that the resulting data could be reproduced as an image. The image depicts the differences in both water content in the region of the body being examined, as well as the movement in the water molecules.

The water movement as reflected in the image generated by an MRI scan assists physicians in detecting pathological changes (structural or functional changes due to illness or injury) in the structure of the body.

MRI technology has proven to be of particular benefit in the analysis of many forms of cancer and brain and spinal cord injury.

The MRI has also proven to be of particular benefit to injured athletes. MRI examinations are often the preferred diagnostic tool in the assessment of overuse and repetitive strain injuries, such as stress fractures frequently sustained in the lower legs of runners. Many professional sports teams and university sport programs either have their own MRI technology or the programs have immediate access to MRI testing. Injuries to joints such as the knee had previously required various forms of exploratory surgery to assess the extent of damage caused to the athlete. The MRI provides team personnel with a relatively definitive answer in a short period time regarding the nature and the extent of an injury. Teams can now make appropriate personnel decisions, such as promoting a player to take the injured player's place on the roster with much greater speed and certainty.

SEE ALSO Musculoskeletal injuries; Sports Injuries; Sports Medical Conditions.