Imaging with a Little Help from My Friends
By Richard P. Holm, MD
The world of radiology began in 1895 when a European physicist Wilhelm Röntgen noticed fluorescence behind heavy cardboard when a cathode tube was activated nearby. Röntgen used his wife’s hand to demonstrate for the first time how these unknown rays, or X-rays, could penetrate the soft tissue of her hand and illustrate the bones that lay within. Röntgen generously refused to patent his discovery which allowed the explosive growth and development of a new industry.
Unfortunately, researchers were unaware of the dangers of too much X-ray exposure and during the early years harm was done, even causing death of some experimenters before safeguards were established. Over time, as technology advanced and more X-rays were utilized, interpreting the images became an increasing challenge and the field of radiology developed. Physicians trained in interpretation helped care providers make better clinical decisions.
I was a first-year resident at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta in the fall of 1975 when the hospital purchased one of the earliest computerized tomography (CT) scanners. It was called an EMI scanner named after the British company that took a huge financial risk in order to develop the technology. Electric and Music Industries (EMI) had signed with the Beatles as their recording company in 1962 and having amassed a fortune from the exponential rise of Beatles popularity, EMI was able to fund the theoretical work of Godfrey Hounsfield which took X-rays of the head from all directions while a computer compiled the results. When all other funding resources said “no,” Hounsfield’s brainchild happened, “with a little help from his friends.”
I was rotating through neurology when the results of the EMI scans started making an impact. We were amazed how they showed tumors, blood clots and lesions inside the skull. We thought it was going to change everything, and indeed it did!
Jump to the present and see how interpretive radiologists have expanded into intervention. Now, instead of simply identifying a tumor or abscess with ultrasound, X-ray, CT, or MRI, radiologists, under the guidance of an imaging modality, can pass a needle into a deep tumor and take a biopsy, drain an abscess, open-up a blocked tube and much more. Procedures that, in the past, would have required open abdominal or chest surgery, now can be done with minimal trauma and pain with quick recovery.
As a patient who has benefited under the expert image-guided hands of an interventional radiologist, I too can sing loud and clear, “I get by with a lot of help from my friends.”
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