Dr. David Michaeli, a medical scientist who immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1993, claims that he should have received the Nobel Prize for medicine, instead of the two researchers who won the award some 10 days ago. He insists that he worked in the 1960s on an embryonic version of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the technology used to distinguish healthy cells from cancerous ones. This research, Michaeli claims, preceded work done by the two scientists who recently won the coveted Nobel Prize.
Michaeli, once known as David Michaelshvili, says that he was the first scientist to use MRI methods for diagnostic purposes, and that he has documentation from Saint Petersburg State University that authenticates his claim.
Dr. Michaeli is not alone. Last week, an American scientist, Dr. Raymon Damadian, published three large statements in prominent American newspapers, claiming that his role in the development of MRI techniques was wrongly overlooked by the Nobel Prize committee. "Had I not been born," claimed Damadian, "there would be no MRI today."
The Nobel Prize went to Dr. Paul Lauterbur, 74, from the United States, and Peter Mansfield, 70, from Great Britain. The prize committee stated that the two scientists had published research studies that had led to major breakthroughs in the development of MRI - a diagnostic technology that enables non-invasive examination of medical patients. Declaring that the two men are responsible for initial, ground-breaking discoveries about the use of magnetic resonance imaging and for revolutionizing medical diagnosis, the Nobel Prize committee conferred to them a $1.3 million award.
A native of Georgia, Michaeli studied medicine and worked until 1969 in a St. Petersburg neurosurgery institute. "I saw a woman arrive after being injured in an accident. She was conscious, but died after 15 minutes due to brain hemorrhaging. I asked myself how iit was that nobody has invented an instrument that might detect such problems," Dr. Michaeli says.
As inspiration for his discovery, Dr. Michaeli recalls that he dreamed one night that he was walking between magnets. This image encouraged him to consider the use of magnetic resonance in diagnostics. "When I woke up my brothers to tell them about the dream and what it meant, they laughed at me," Michaeli adds.
After convincing superiors of the potential laden in his idea, Dr. Michaeli was given access to appropriate equipment at a closed military facility. It was there that experiments with MRI prototypes persuaded him of the technology's potential to identify cancerous cells.
In 1969, Dr. Michael's request for patent rights was roundly rejected by the relevant Soviet office, which deemed his idea "stupid." The patent office advised him to seek rights not for the equipment he had developed, but rather for the proto MRI process itself. Later, the patent office informed him that his work would receive recognition only if he could prove that magnetic resonance imaging causes no genetic damage.
In 1985, Michaeli finally received a patent for his work; but his research on the new technology had tapered off years before.
Dr. Michaeli says he was unable to publicize his findings ecause of the restrictions of the Soviet system. In this respect, his situation is not analogous to that of the other frustrated Nobel Prize seeker, Raymond Damadian.
Damadian, who has been embroiled in a public dispute about credit for the MRI discovery that precedes the recent Nobel Prize announcements, published an article in the Science journal in 1971 about how magnetic imaging could tell the difference between normal cells and cancerous ones.
Michaeli, who is currently developing state-of-the-art equipment for measuring blood pressure at a technology incubator in Ashkelon, has written to the Nobel Prize Committee, asking it to review documents he believes authenticate his role in the discovery and development of MRI.
Referring to Damadian's self-purchased newspaper advertisements on the MRI discovery dispute, Michaeli says, "I don't have $240,000 to publish such statements. It seems that even if he [Damadian] wins a Nobel Prize, he's already spent his share on advertising."
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