Sir Peter Mans­field

No­bel prize-win­ning physi­cist who de­vel­oped MRI scan­ning and tested the tech­nol­ogy on him­self

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

SIR PETER MANS­FIELD, the physi­cist, who has died aged 83, won, with Paul Lauter­bur, the 2003 No­bel prize for Phys­i­ol­ogy or Medicine for de­vel­op­ing mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (MRI); his achieve­ment was all the more re­mark­able in that he had started his work­ing life as an ap­pren­tice printer af­ter leav­ing school aged 15, hav­ing been ad­vised by a ca­reers teacher that he was not bright enough to be a sci­en­tist.

The tech­nique of MRI has changed the face of mod­ern medicine by en­abling doc­tors to see ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­tailed images of the in­ter­nal work­ings of the body with­out the use of po­ten­tially harm­ful ion­is­ing radiation and with­out in­va­sive surgery. MRI can re­veal, for ex­am­ple, whether lower-back pain stems from pres­sure on a nerve or the spinal cord; it can show how the heart op­er­ates and lay out “road maps” for sur­geons be­fore they op­er­ate for can­cer or other dis­eases.

It is also unique in its abil­ity to un­pick the quirks of hu­man thought; doc­tors have been able to iden­tify the por­tion of the brain that may cause stut­ter­ing and the por­tion that guides de­ci­sion mak­ing. Car man­u­fac­tur­ers have dis­cov­ered, us­ing MRI, that when we look at a sports car with its eye-like head­lights, the por­tion of the brain that re­sponds to faces is ac­ti­vated.

The tech­nique works by ex­ploit­ing the fact that the nu­clei of atoms have a spin that can be con­trolled by a pow­er­ful mag­netic field. The spin­ning nu­clei ori­en­tate them­selves in the mag­netic field and can ab­sorb ra­dio en­ergy. When they re­turn to their orig­i­nal state, they emit ra­dio waves at char­ac­ter­is­tic fre­quen­cies that con­vey in­for­ma­tion about the chem­i­cal struc­ture they find them­selves in.

In ef­fect, the nu­clei of atoms act as tiny ra­dio trans­mit­ters to broad­cast in­for­ma­tion about them­selves. MRI is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in med­i­cal imag­ing be­cause the body is largely com­posed of wa­ter, and hy­dro­gen atoms – two to ev­ery mol­e­cule of wa­ter – are the best res­onators of all. Dif­fer­ent types of tis­sues within or­gans – in­clud­ing can­cer cells – have dif­fer­ent wa­ter con­tent, which shows up as dif­fer­ent colours on an MRI scan.

MRI be­came avail­able to doc­tors in the 1980s, though its ori­gins go back to the late 1930s when the Amer­i­can physi­cist I I Rabi sug­gested that in­for­ma­tion about the nuclear cores of atoms could be ob­tained by study­ing the mag­netism of pro­tons, and in the 1940s when the physi­cists EM Pur­cell and Felix Bloch dis­cov­ered what they termed nuclear mag­netic res­o­nance (NMR), the phe­nom­e­non that makes MRI pos­si­ble.

In the early 1970s Paul Lauter­bur showed how to make two-di­men­sional images of the body with mag­netic res­o­nance, by in­tro­duc­ing gra­da­tions or gra­di­ents in the ex­ter­nal mag­netic field, though the images were fuzzy and the tech­nique was slow. It was Mans­field who turned Lauter­bur’s dis­cov­ery into a use­ful di­ag­nos­tic tool.

Work­ing at the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham, Mans­field de­vel­oped Lauter­bur’s mag­netic gra­di­ent tech­nique fur­ther and cre­ated a math­e­mat­i­cal method of swiftly de­ci­pher­ing the ra­dio sig­nals and turn­ing them into three-di­men­sional images of the in­ter­nal struc­tures of the body. This al­lowed ex­tremely fast imag­ing to take place.

Mans­field and his team be­gan test­ing the new tech­nique on plants and bits of an­i­mal tis­sue. When the time came to test their tech­nol­ogy on a live sub­ject, none of them were bi­ol­o­gists and they had no ex­pe­ri­ence with lab­o­ra­tory an­i­mals, so Mans­field de­cided to vol­un­teer him­self.

Though he later ad­mit­ted to some mis­giv­ings about the pos­si­ble ef­fects on his health, the tech­nique has turned out to be not only highly ef­fec­tive but also safer than any other method of in­ter­nal imag­ing. Mans­field went on to make fur­ther im­prove­ments in the tech­nique, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing its speed enor­mously so that changes in or­gans such as the brain could be fol­lowed as they oc­curred.

The No­bel com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to recog­nise Mans­field’s achieve­ment, 30 years af­ter he had car­ried out his re­search and long af­ter MRI had be­come an es­tab­lished di­ag­nos­tic tool in hos­pi­tals, was gen­er­ally re­garded as long over­due. There are now more than 36,000 MRI scan­ners at work all over the world, car­ry­ing out some 80 mil­lion scans a year.

One of nine chil­dren of a gas-fit­ter, Peter Mans­field was born in Lam­beth on Oc­to­ber 9 1933. Al­though his ed­u­ca­tion at a cen­tral school in Peck­ham (now Wil­liam Penn School) left him with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, his sci­en­tific cu­rios­ity had been kin­dled by the V1 fly­ing bombs and the V2 rock­ets that fell on Lon­don in 1944, when he was 11. He col­lected frag­ments and taught him­self about weapons and ex­plo­sives.

On leav­ing school he be­came an ap­pren­tice com­pos­i­tor at a print­ing works in the City of Lon­don, but soon got bored and, aged 19, got a job as a sci­en­tific as­sis­tant at the Rocket Propul­sion De­part­ment, part of the Min­istry of Sup­ply, near Ayles­bury.

Af­ter an un­re­ward­ing pe­riod of Na­tional Ser­vice in the stores of the Royal Army Ser­vice Corps, he stud­ied for A-lev­els at night school then won a place at Queen Mary Col­lege, east Lon­don, where he took a de­gree in Physics and went on to do a doc­tor­ate in nuclear mag­netic res­o­nance, a tech­nique which was then only used for the study of chem­i­cal struc­ture.

From 1962 he worked as a re­search as­so­ciate at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois un­til 1964, when he was ap­pointed a lec­turer in Physics at Not­ting­ham Univer­sity. He re­mained at Not­ting­ham for the rest of his sci­en­tific ca­reer, be­com­ing Pro­fes­sor of Physics in 1979.

The Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to fund Mans­field’s re­search into MRI was brave, as it seemed doubt­ful whether it would bear fruit. Yet the cel­e­bra­tions of his suc­cess were over­shad­owed by the bit­ter­ness he felt over Bri­tain’s fail­ure to ex­ploit his in­ven­tion com­mer­cially.

The lack of will from Gov­ern­ment or in­dus­try to cre­ate an MRI in­dus­try in Bri­tain, and the ini­tial lack of or­ders from the Na­tional Health Ser­vice (many of the ma­chines in Bri­tain’s hos­pi­tals have been bought with pri­vate money), meant that the lion’s share of the mar­ket in MRI scan­ners, worth some £600 mil­lion a year by 1988, went to Amer­i­can and Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers.

MRI has been so suc­cess­ful that the orig­i­nal tech­nique has spawned numer­ous off­shoots. Low-field MRI of­fers the prospect of cheaper and more por­ta­ble equip­ment; sus­cep­ti­bil­ity weighted imag­ing (SWI) of­fers images of small haem­or­rhages in minute de­tail. MRI is even be­ing tested as a tool for de­tect­ing viruses.

Mans­field was a soft-spo­ken man, and his in­ter­ests in­cluded learn­ing for­eign lan­guages and fly­ing – he held a pi­lot’s licence for both aero­planes and he­li­copters.

His achieve­ments were recog­nised in numer­ous hon­ours and awards, in­clud­ing the Gold Medal of the So­ci­ety of Mag­netic Res­o­nance in Medicine (1983); the Royal So­ci­ety’s Well­come Medal (1984), the Euro­pean Mag­netic Res­o­nance Award (1988) and the Royal So­ci­ety’s Mullard Medal (1993). He was elected a Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety in 1987, made an hon­orary Mem­ber of the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of Ra­di­ol­ogy in 1993 and knighted in 1995.

Peter Mans­field mar­ried, in 1962, Jean Kib­ble, who sur­vives him with their two daugh­ters.

Pro­fes­sor Sir Peter Mans­field, born Oc­to­ber 9 1933, died Fe­bru­ary 8 2017

Mans­field in his lab at Not­ting­ham: he left school with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but his in­ter­est in science had been kin­dled by the V1 fly­ing bombs and V2 rock­ets that fell on Lon­don when he was 11

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.