On November 8, 1895, a German physicist named Wilhem Conrad Roentgen discovered the X-ray, so-called because it was an unknown form of electromagnetic radiation. Dr. Roentgen quickly discovered the medical application of the X-ray when he photographed the bones in his wife’s hand on December 22 of that year. He received the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901 for this landmark discovery.
On this anniversary, it is worth pausing to reflect on the staggering evolution of medical imaging and its impact on modern medicine. In just over 100 years, we have seen the development of ever more sophisticated imaging devices including ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron-emission tomography (PET). These scans allow doctors known as radiologists to diagnose disease earlier and more accurately.
From the X-Ray to Molecular Medicine
Radiologists also use medical imaging devices to guide them in when performing minimally invasive procedures. In 1964, a new field was born when Charles Dotter, a radiologist often credited as the father of interventional radiology, performed the first arterial angioplasty. Today, specially trained physicians known as interventional radiologists perform a wide array of procedures through a small incision — preventing the need for invasive surgery. These interventions include opening blocked arteries with angioplasty and stents; stopping life-threatening internal hemorrhage with embolization; treating cancer with radiofrequency ablation; and many more.
Innovation in medical imaging has revolutionized the practice of medicine in ways that could not have been imagined when Dr. Roentgen first made his discovery. Further advances in medical imaging hold the promise to usher in the era of personalized medicine. For instance, the new frontier of molecular imaging that may enable the detection of abnormalities–before diseases manifest clinically. Molecular imaging may also allow physicians to tailor pharmaceutical treatment to patients based on their genetic makeup.
We can only dream of what the next century will bring, but advances in medical imaging will continue to improve the human condition through earlier, more precise diagnosis leading to personalized, minimally invasive treatment.