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Twenty five year celebration of first whole-body MRI scan of a patient

A quarter of a century ago an elderly man from Fraserburgh with terminal cancer became the first patient in the world to receive an MRI body scan.

The scan for tumours on his liver was groundbreaking and only possible at that time because of the tireless endeavours of a dedicated team of physicists and clinicians who were convinced of the power of medical imaging.

The collaborators took Magnetic Resonance Imaging and developed it by creating a whole body scanner which they then put to clinical use before anyone else.

Their faith in the technology was well founded – MRI is now one of modern medicine’s most important diagnostic tools and is applied all over the world.

Professor John Mallard, Head of the Medical Physics Department at the University of Aberdeen at that time had the incredible foresight of the benefits of this kind of imaging. He directed his team of physicists and secured funding from a variety of sources to develop the technology.

The team in his department – Professor James Hutchison, Dr William Edelstein, Dr Glyn Johnson and Professor Thomas Redpath - were responsible for taking an early form of this technique and developing it into a device that could scan the whole body.

Their efforts in creating a full body scanner needed clinical support if it was to be of any medical use.

Dr Francis Smith was the clinician who together with the physicists could see the benefits. The Consultant Radiologist with NHS Grampian and Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen was the clinician who carried out the scan of the Fraserburgh man.

It is 25 years since that incredible milestone and the University of Aberdeen is celebrating the extraordinary achievement with two special events taking place next week.

Dr Smith said: “Aberdeen University developed and built a whole body scanner and put it to clinical use before anyone else in the world. It was a very exciting time.

“We are fiercely proud of what was achieved all those years ago and we thought it was important to celebrate our silver anniversary.

“Since those early days millions of people worldwide have benefited from MRI examinations and the accurate diagnosis they provide which then facilitates the appropriate treatment.

“The development of MRI is as important to medicine as the discovery of x-rays was in 1895.”

Professor Gilbert added: “MRI is a fantastic diagnostic tool for neurological disorders. It has had a huge impact in diseases of the spine, bones and joints. It is now used to image the heart and abdomen to great effect.

“We believe ours was an achievement that the world should know about and we also think it is important that the world is reminded that the University of Aberdeen is a centre of excellence.”

August 28, 1980 was the date of that historic first full body patient scan. To mark the occasion the University has organised a free public lecture which takes place on Thursday, September 1 at the University’s King’s College Centre at 6pm.

The lecture, which is part of the 2-day A Celebration of 25 Years of Clinical MRI, will be chaired by Professor Gilbert and promises a fascinating insight from the pioneers themselves.

Dr Francis Smith will outline the history of clinical MRI, and his physicist partner of old, Professor James Hutchison, will talk about the history of MRI, from NMR to MRI.

There will also be a reunion of the scientists and clinicians who broke new ground on Friday, September 2 at a special scientific session at King’s College Centre.

Professor Hutchison and Professor Redpath and their former colleagues Dr William Edelstein, Dr Glyn Johnson and Dr Linda Eastwood who are now based in different parts of America, will be meeting up again for the first time since they went their separate ways.

Dr Smith added: “As well as the whole physics team we have managed to bring four out of the five clinical fellows together for our scientific session.

“It will be the first time we have all been together in 25 years and I guess it could also be the last time we will all get together. It should be a very special two days with lots of shared memories.”

*To book a place for the public lecture call (01224) 559718 or email or visit

For more information contact: Dr Francis Smith via his secretary on (01224) 556373 and Professor Fiona Gilbert via her secretary on (01224) 559718.


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Monday 29th of August 2005

Ref: 1770mri
Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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