Dr. William Henry Oldendorf was an internationally renowned neurologist who made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain and pioneered the medical imaging techniques widely used today.
Oldendorf was a VA scientist and a medical officer in the US Navy. He is known for his contributions to the development of computed tomography (commonly known as his CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Both imaging techniques are derived from Oldendorf’s work on isotope scanning of the brain and are used to non-invasively acquire detailed internal images of the body. These images allow scientists and doctors to identify and monitor disease and provide the most accurate treatment for patients.
Through his work in the late 1950s and 1960s, Oldendorf introduced seminal ideas that laid the foundation for MRI and CT scans. Both imaging techniques are among the major scientific advances of the 20th century.th century.
“Revolutionized the field of neurological diagnostics”
In 1975 Oldendorf shared the prestigious Lasker Award with British electrical engineer Godfrey Hounsfield for his development of the CT scan. In the words of the Lasker Foundation, “To Dr. Oldendorf’s concepts and experiments that directly predicted and demonstrated the feasibility of computed tomography, which revolutionized the field of neurological diagnostics, this his 1975 Albert His Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award will be awarded.”
In addition to medical imaging, Oldendorf pursued research that advanced neurological concepts. He has become an international authority on the blood-brain barrier, the highly complex and dynamic semi-permeable barrier that protects the brain. The blood-brain barrier protects against toxins and pathogens that can cause brain infections. It also ensures that important nutrients reach the brain.
Born in Schenectady, New York in 1925, Oldendorf showed a keen interest in medicine from an early age. He graduated from high school at the age of 15, and in 1945 he completed his medical preparatory education at Union His College in Schenectady, and in 1947 received his doctorate in medicine from the Albany College of Medicine. After that, he served two years as a psychiatrist at the United States Naval Hospital in Newport. , Rhode Island. After leaving the Navy, he completed his residency at the University of Minnesota Hospital in 1955 and West became Assistant Chief of Neurology at Wadsworth Hospital, part of his VA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He also joined the medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The discovery laid the foundation for medical imaging technology
Oldendorf then revived and innovated the concept of tomography first introduced in the 1930s by Dutch neurologist Bernard George Siesses de Plant. In 1959, he declared his goal to “scan his head through his transmitted beam of X-rays and reconstruct the radio density pattern in a plane through his head.”
Oldendorf’s landmark paper, published in 1961, focused on radiation tomography. In 1963, he received a U.S. patent for “Radiant Energy Apparatus for Probing Selected Areas of Internal Objects Obscured by Dense Matter.” This prototype, of which Oldendorf became known as the “Thomas Edison of medical device innovation,” led to the development of the first of his CT scanners. His findings also laid the groundwork for MRI and other yet-to-be-developed medical imaging techniques such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT).
The Oldendorf concept of axial tomography helps improve the diagnosis of neurological disorders, especially in infants and children.
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