Over the years, there have been three medical imaging technologies whose developers have been awarded a Nobel Prize: X-rays (1901); computer tomography (1979); and magnetic resonance imaging (2003). As prescribed by the Nobel Foundation, “In no case may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons.” Known as “The Rule of Three,” this statute has, over the years, led to considerable controversy for each of the medical imaging modalities.
In 1901, the inaugural year for the Nobel Prizes, Wilhelm Röntgen received the award for physics for the discovery of X-rays. Many will be surprised to learn there were two other scientists whose contributions were ignored by the Selection Committee. In the 1880s, Ivan Puluj from Ukraine (seen above left) reportedly took an X-ray of a 13-year-old boy’s broken arm and another of his own daughter’s hand with a metallic pin beneath it. Nikola Tesla (seen above right) was a Serbian engineer best known for designing alternating current who created X-ray images at least a year before Röntgen’s discovery in November 1895.
In 1979, the Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to South African-born physicist Allan Cormack and British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield “for the development of computer assisted tomography.” The American neurologist William Oldendorf (seen left) was bitterly disappointed that he did not share the award although Ulf Rudhe, a radiologist on the Selection Committee, in a private letter to Cormack wrote, “The decision to award the prize to you and Mr Hounsfield – and not to anybody else in the field – fills me with persistent satisfaction.”
In 2003, the Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to two basic scientists, American Paul Lauterbur and Englishman Peter Mansfield, for “their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging.” Raymond Damadian (seen below right) was so incensed when he was excluded that he placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, addressed to his fellow medical doctors, “I want you to know something, the MRI is emphatically an MD’s invention.” However, the Selection Committee’s decision was final.
At last week’s European Congress of Radiology in Vienna, Hans Ringertz, a paediatric radiologist who chaired the Selection Committee in 2003, was interviewed and said he was certain the right decision was made to exclude Damadian. Although he is no longer involved in selecting Nobel Laureates, Ringertz speculated the developer of positron emission tomography (PET), Michael Phelps, might soon be recognised. He pointed out that a landmark paper, published in 1975, has seen its share of controversy with the first author, Michel Ter-Pogossian, having his name removed posthumously.