October 6, 2003
American and Briton Win Nobel for Medicine
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 8:07 a.m. ET
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- American Paul C. Lauterbur and Briton Sir Peter
Mansfield won the 2003 Nobel Prize for medicine Monday for discoveries
leading to a technique that reveals images of the body's inner organs.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, has become a routine method for
medical diagnosis and treatment. It is used to examine almost all organs
without need for surgery, but is especially valuable for detailed
examination of the brain and spinal cord.
MRI can reveal whether lower back pain is is due to pressure on a nerve or
spinal cord, for example. It can give surgeons a roadmap for operations,
revealing the limits of a tumor. And since MRI itself does not require
physically entering the body, it can replace some procedures that patients
Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each
year, and the technique is ``a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and
research,'' the Assembly said.
Monday's prize honors pioneering work done in the 1970s that laid the
groundwork for making MRI a useful method, the assembly said.
Lauterbur, 74, discovered the possibility of creating a two-dimensional
picture by producing variations in a magnetic field. Lauterbur is at the
Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the University of Illinois in
``I'm surprised and very gratified,'' Lauterbur said when contacted at his
home early Monday. ``In particular, I believe, I think the work has been
helpful to many people, and I'm happy that has been acknowledged by the
Mansfield, 70, showed how the signals the body emits during an MRI exam
could be rapidly analyzed and transformed into an image. Mansfield also
showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable. This became
technically possible within medicine a decade later.
Mansfield is at the University of Nottingham in Britain.
``Well it's, I suppose, every scientist's hope (that) one day that they
maybe singled out for such an honor but I must say that in my case I did
think about it a few years ago, but then dismissed it,'' he told Swedish
The prize for the two men is ``long overdue,'' said Sir George Radda, an
MRI expert from Oxford University. ``These two people have clearly been
the inventors of magnetic resonance imaging and developed it.''
The Medical Research Council, Britain's equivalent to the National
Instititutes of Health, funded Mansfield's early work.
``They recognized even at the very early physics and engineering stage
that this was worth supporting in the long run and it paid off,'' said
Radda, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council.
``There are a lot of people who along the line contributed, like in all
these cases, but they published the key papers.''
Radda noted that MRI has become very versatile, and can produce images
that indicate brain functioning as well as anatomy.
``There are very people around now that haven't been in an MRI machine
these days,'' Radda said. ``It turned out to be extremely useful for
looking at joints and knees, the brain, the heart -- basically every
organ. The difficult one is the lung.''
Essentially, MRI provokes hydrogen atoms in the body's tissues to emit
radio signals, which it then detects and uses to build up
three-dimensional images of internal organs.
The prize includes a check for 10 million kronor, or $1.3 million, and
bestows a deeper sense of academic and medical integrity upon the winners.
There are no set guidelines for deciding who wins. Alfred Nobel, who
endowed the awards that bear his name, simply said the winner ``shall have
made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or
The assembly, which selects the medicine prize winner, invites nominations
from previous recipients, professors of medicine and other professionals
worldwide before whittling down its choices in the fall.
Last year's winners were Britons Sydney Brenner and John E. Sulston, and
American H. Robert Horvitz for their discoveries about how genes regulate
organ growth and a process of programmed cell suicide. Their findings shed
light on the development of many illnesses, including AIDS and strokes.
The award for medicine opens a week of Nobel Prizes that culminates Friday
with the prestigious peace prize, the only one revealed in Oslo, Norway.
The physics award will be announced Tuesday and the chemistry and
economics awards Wednesday in the Swedish capital.
South African writer J.M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for
literature on Thursday.
The award committees make their decisions in deep secrecy and candidates
are not publicly revealed for 50 years.
Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, left only vague
guidelines in his will establishing the prizes, first awarded in 1901.
The only public hints are for the peace prize.
The five-member awards committee never reveals the candidates, but
sometimes those making the nominations announce their choices.
Nobel watchers say there is no clear favorite for this year's Peace Prize,
but some names bandied about include Pope John Paul II, Brazilian
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
A record 165 nominations were received by the Feb. 1 deadline. Even though
the committee keeps the names secret, those nominating a candidate often
announce their preference.
Other known or likely nominees include Karzai; Cuban human rights activist
Oswaldo Paya Sardinas; Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng; former Illinois
Gov. George Ryan for emptying his state's death row of 167 inmates; former
Czech President Vaclav Havel; U2 singer Bono; and Mordechai Vanunu, a
nuclear scientist held captive by Israel for treason-related charges.
The awards always are presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's
death in 1896.