The Evolution of the Medical Imaging Industry


The evolution of medical imaging is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Currently, the medical imaging industry is worth over $50 billion; and to understand its evolution is to travel in time like a “Back to the Future”. History is my passion, and I hope readers get a sense of the exhilarating journey of this fantastical realm, whose storyline includes Nobel laureates, passionate innovators, and groundbreaking technological advancements with tons of fascinating folklore to each step.

A Happy Accident – ​​Remarkable Breakthrough

As my scholarly colleague Praveen Rajgopal so aptly puts it, it is the “Journey of the Invisible”. Invisible indeed, because what medical imaging accomplishes is to show images of what is not visible to the human eye – the anatomy of bones, soft tissues and other internal organs.

What is fascinating is that medical imaging began with a chance discovery. It was on November 8, 1895 that the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, while experimenting in his laboratory on cathode radiation, noticed a fluorescent glow a few meters away from his desk. He concluded that the tube emitted unknown, invisible light or radiation that could pass through deep layers of material – a conclusion he came to after testing his theory on books and papers on his desk.

Borrowing from mathematics where “X” is used to indicate an unknown quantity, Wilhelm called them X-rays! This happy accident marked the discovery of X-rays, a discovery that would revolutionize the field of medicine.

CT scan growth

As the medical importance of x-rays evolved (the first human x-ray was of a human hand, that of Anna Bertham, Wilhelm’s wife), the Eastman Kodak company (whose medical branch is now Carestream) introduced the first capture medium, a photographic paper designed for x-ray purposes in 1896 – marking the photography companies’ foray into medical imaging.

In the 1940s, X-ray tomography was introduced, which is the ability to produce image slices without seeing over or underlying tissue. It was the precursor to today’s CT and MRI images. Computed tomography (CT) was developed using X-ray projections from multiple angles and then constructing a two-dimensional image with a mathematical model incorporating the projected data. In 1967, Sir Godfrey Hounsfield invented the first CT scanner at EMI research laboratories. By the early 1980s, over three million CT studies had been performed; the number has grown to more than 100 million CT studies per year, with computed tomography becoming the “truth machine” of the modern physician.


The history of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) development involves many contributions from clinical, scientific and technical fields. MRI imaging is based on different physical principles from computed tomography.

In MRIs, a powerful magnet is used to produce a very strong fixed magnetic field around the patient while radio frequency pulses are used to excite protons in the body. When the excited protons return to a resting state, they send back signals which are captured and mapped into an image. Two scientists, Felix Bloch and Edward Purcell simultaneously and independently developed the concept of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), for which they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952. Today, MRI is used in virtually all medical subspecialties.

The beginnings of angiography and ultrasound

Along with this came the advent of angiography (which is the imaging of blood vessels) and nuclear medicine in the 1950s. Today, coronary angiography is a method of cardiac evaluation worldwide preferred non-invasive with high sensitivity and specificity.

Another fascinating development in medical imaging is the use of ultrasound (sound waves with frequencies higher than those audible to humans) in diagnostic imaging. Scientists as early as the 1900s were figuring out how bats use sound to “see in the dark.” Ian Donald, gynecologist, was the first to use ultrasound to study the fetus, uterus and pelvis in the 1950s. Many innovators including Christian Doppler & the Curie brothers contributed to its development. Today, of course, contrast ultrasound is an essential examination worldwide.

The success story of medical imaging over the past decades is not only due to technological advances but also to the digital revolution. In the future, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, through smart equipment developed by MedTech companies, will further help radiologists and clinicians around the world accurately diagnose various conditions as innovators continue to find new diagnostic applications of available imaging technologies.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


Source link


Comments are closed.