Damadian turns to U.S. public in battle for Nobel recognition

October 29, 2003

Protests include ads in major newspapersDr. Raymond Damadian is very unhappy, and he is letting people know about it. Passed over for the Nobel Prize, announced Oct. 6, the enigmatic head of Fonar has launched a campaign "To Right

Protests include ads in major newspapers

Dr. Raymond Damadian is very unhappy, and he is letting people know about it. Passed over for the Nobel Prize, announced Oct. 6, the enigmatic head of Fonar has launched a campaign "To Right the Wrong," according to his full-page advertisement. He is asking supporters to write the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine that Damadian's early work be recognized alongside that of the two winners of this year's prize, Dr. Paul Lauterbur and Prof. Peter Mansfield.

In a prepared statement released Oct. 16, Fonar protested the "outrageous" exclusion of Damadian and said this "willful attempt to rewrite scientific history by the Nobel Committee should not be allowed to go unchallenged." The statement noted that the "The Friends of Raymond Damadian Committee" had been formed to pay all advertising costs related to the Nobel Prize controversy. By then, Damadian and his spin doctors had already done a good bit of groundwork.

Full-page advertisements, entitled "This Year's Nobel Prize in Medicine. The Shameful Wrong That Must Be Righted" and featuring an upside-down picture of the Nobel medal, ran Oct. 9 in the Washington Post and The New York Times and Oct. 10 in the Los Angeles Times. The ads, which together cost an estimated $290,000, called on the Nobel Committee to correct its "error" and encouraged readers to get in touch with the committee to voice their opinions.

The ad, which is posted on Fonar's Web site, accused the Nobel Committee of choosing to award the prize, "not to the medical doctor/research scientist who made the breakthough discovery on which all MRI technology is based, but to two scientists who later made technological improvements based on his discovery."

The general media amplified Damadian's strident rebuttal of the Nobel Committee's decision. Newsday ran a story under the headline "Damadian: I Was Robbed of Nobel Prize." In a Washington Post story, Damadian lamented that he "is to be written out of history altogether."

Some European radiologists reacted unfavorably to Damadian's public response. One academic radiologist closely associated with the Nobel organization called Damadian's behavior "clownish and laughable."

The case for turning this year's Nobel winning duo into a trio hinges on a scientific paper written by Damadian and published in the March 1971 issue of Science. The paper heralds differences in magnetic signal intensity as numeric measures of attenuation coefficient that can be used to distinguish normal and cancerous tissue. Damadian subsequently produced the first wide field-of-view images of a human torso with MRI and introduced the first commercial MR scanner.

Damadian's place in history has been debated for decades. A major bone of contention has been the degree to which Damadian's findings influenced discoveries made by Lauterbur in September 1971. Lauterbur determined that a 2D spatial representation of MR was possible by using a rotating magnetic gradient field. These findings were published 18 months later in Nature.

Lauterbur credited Damadian in a May 2002 lecture at the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine annual meeting for the idea that differences in magnetic relaxation times could be used to noninvasively diagnose cancers. Damadian said in a 1996 interview with Diagnostic Imaging that Lauterbur took his numeric findings and converted them into pixel intensities to create an image.

Mansfield designed a more sophisticated reconstruction scheme than the back projection method that Lauterbur originally proposed. His findings, published in 1973, led him three years later to develop the first MRI echo-planar pulse sequence.

As they have done throughout the 25-year history of Fonar, Damadian and colleagues have wrapped their struggle in patriotism. The company cited patent attorneys "who say this decision is an affront to the U.S. Patent Systems." It stated that the "Nobel Committee delivered an affront to our Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, both of whom acknowledged Dr. Damadian's contributions to mankind by awarding him the National Medal of Technology and by his induction into the U.S. Patent Office National Inventors Hall of Fame." Moreover, the exclusion of Damadian, according to the company, is an "affront to the elementary principles of justice which all Americans hold dear."