- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

STOCKHOLM — American Paul C. Lauterbur and Briton Sir Peter Mansfield won the 2003 Nobel Prize for medicine yesterday for discoveries leading to the development of MRI, now relied on by doctors for getting a detailed look into their patients’ bodies.

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.

MRI can reveal whether lower back pain is a result of pressure on a nerve or spinal cord, for example. It can give surgeons a road map for operations, revealing the limits of a tumor. And since MRI itself does not require physically entering the body, it can replace some procedures that patients find uncomfortable.

Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each year, and the technique is “a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and research,” the Nobel committee said.

Yesterday’s prize honors pioneering work done in the 1970s that laid the groundwork for making MRI a useful method, the committee said.

Dr. Lauterbur, 74, discovered the possibility of creating a two-dimensional picture by producing variations in a magnetic field. He did the work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, but is now at the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

“I’m surprised and very gratified,” Dr. Lauterbur said when contacted at his home yesterday. “In particular, I believe, I think the work has been helpful to many people, and I’m happy that has been acknowledged by the Swedish academy.”

Dr. Mansfield, 69, showed how the signals the body emits during an MRI exam could be rapidly analyzed and transformed into an image. Dr. Mansfield also showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable. This became technically possible within medicine a decade later.

Dr. Mansfield is at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

“We’ve waited a long time, but I must say, I didn’t really expect anything like this to come at this point in my life,” he said. “My 70th birthday is this week and although I’m retired, I’m still working in research, but I’d given up all hopes and ideas of receiving anything in the way of an accolade of this type.”

The prize for the two men is “long overdue,” said Sir George Radda, an MRI expert from Oxford University. “These two people have clearly been the inventors of magnetic resonance imaging and developed it.”

The Medical Research Council, Britain’s equivalent to the National Institutes of Health, funded Dr. Mansfield’s early work.

“They recognized even at the very early physics and engineering stage that this was worth supporting in the long run and it paid off,” said Dr. Radda, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council.

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

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