William H. Oldendorf
William Henry Oldendorf (
1925- December 14, 1992) was an American neurologist, physician, researcher, medical pioneer, founding member of the American Society for Neuroimaging (ASN), and originator of the technique of Computed Tomography.
William Oldendorf was born in 1925, the youngest of four children, in
Schenectady, New York. According to his sister Dorothy, William developed an interest in science and imaging through his fascination with telescopes. While still in high school, he placed one on the front sidewalk of their abode and studied the stars late into the night.
Oldendorf graduated from high school at the age of 15 and afterwards attended
Union Collegein Schenectady, New York-- completing premedical studies in just 3 years. He received his medical degree from the Albany Medical Collegein Albany, New Yorkin 1947.
Following medical internship at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, Oldendorf completed a residency in
psychiatrythrough the New York StateDepartment of Mental Health Residency Training Program. Then he enlisted for active duty in the United States Navyas a medical officer and was posted at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island. Two years later Oldendorf left the Navy to complete a fellowship in neurologyat the University of MinnesotaHospitals in Minneapolis, Minnesota; for this reason, he was subsequently certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurologyas a diplomate in both specialties.
In 1956, Oldendorf joined the faculty of the new
medical schoolat the University of Californiaand the staff of the nearby UCLA-affiliated West Los AngelesVeterans Administration Medical Center. He became an active member of the academic community, where his scientific, clinical, and teaching abilities were admired at the bedside, in seminars, at clinical conferences, in the auditorium, and in his laboratory. He engaged students and colleagues in long discussions about neurologic theory, the scientific process, or results of medical research. By 1959, Oldendorf was an attending neurologistat the Wadsworth VA-UCLA Medical Center where his ability to apply techniques from one field to another did not go unnoticed. He was universally characterized as "likable", "friendly", "amusing", "creative", "intense", and "humble".
Oldendorf's interest neuroimaging was precipitated by a dislike for invasive procedures (like
pneumoencephalographyand direct carotid puncture) that he performed as a clinical neurologist. Oldendorf found that these traumatic, tedious tests provided only "limited" and "indirect" information about the brain. At UCLA, he started his seminal investigations into the two major lines of research that would define his career: X-ray shadow radiographyand cerebral angiography. The first line was influential in the evolving concept of neuroimaging; the second yielded fundamental knowledge of brain metabolismand mechanisms of the blood-brain barrier.
Contributions to Medical Science
Role in Development of Neuroimaging
In 1959, Oldendorf conceived an idea for "scanning a head through a transmitted beam of
X-rays, and being able to reconstruct the radiodensity patterns of a plane through the head" by watching an engineer who was working on an automated apparatus to reject frost-bitten fruit by detecting dehydrated portions. Not until 1961 did he complete a working prototype of his idea, apply (for $1700) for a patent on his idea, and publish an article detailing the work. Ingeniously, by using materials found in his home (such as his son's toy train, a phonograph turntable, and an alarm clock motor), Oldendorf demonstrated a method of producing cross-sectional images of soft tissue by back-projection and reconstruction. In his landmark paper, also published in 1961, he described the basic concept later used by Allan McLeod Cormackto develop the mathematics behind computerized tomography, though Prof. Cormack was unaware of Oldendorf's work. In October, 1963 Oldendorf finally received a U.S. patentfor a "radiant energy apparatus for investigating selected areas of interior objects obscured by dense material,". This work was recognized by Godfrey Hounsfieldas the only other attempt at tomographic reconstruction, and, indeed, formed the basis of much of his Nobel prize-winning work. The prototype developed by Dr. Hounsfield, however, did not lead to the development of the first industrial CAT scanning device. When suggested to a leading X-ray manufacturer of the time, the president of the company retorted,
Faced with this reaction, Oldendorf "turned his attention to other scientific work and heard nothing further about the idea until 1972."
However, his idea was a fundamental discovery which also led to
MRI, positron emission tomography(PET), single photon emission computed tomography ( SPECT), and other imaging techniques. Once these techniques became widely accepted, Dr. Oldendorf, along with William Markley McKinney, MD(1930–2003) were instrumental in promoting the use of Computed Tomographyamong neurologists to help decrease the use of superfluous and invasive tests.
Oldendorf made many other discoveries that have significantly affected
neuroscienceand the practice of medicine. He developed an original method to analyze blood flow in the brain and the kineticsof blood-brain permeability. The idea of the blood-brain barrier was already entrenched in medical science by this time, but had never been quantified. Oldendorf's work in measuring blood flow with radioactive isotopeswas fundamental to the subsequent development of techniques now used in many nuclear medicine laboratories. His methods of assessing blood-brain barrier permeability increased knowledge of the mechanisms whereby drugsand metabolic substrates enter into the brain. Especially important was his characterization of more than a dozen independent carrier systems, along with their saturation kinetics.
Today, most of what is known of the selective permeability of the blood-brain barrier was either established by Oldendorf in his laboratory, or by others using his ingenious techniques. These results have been essential in developing PET and SPECT imaging; in studying
glucose transportand brain metabolism; and in characterizing clinically important diseases such as cerebral ischemia, starvation, and epilepsy. Oldendorf's experiments were also was the first to prove that cerebrospinal fluidfunctions as a "sink" in relationship to brain metabolism, a concept that is being investigated in relation to the pathophysiologyof presenile dementias such as Alzheimer's disease.
Professional Publications and Societies
In his lifetime, Oldendorf wrote three textbooks and over 250 scientific articles, including "The Quest for an Image of the Brain: Computerized Tomography in the Perspective of Past and Future Imaging Methods" (Raven Press, New York, 1980) and "Basics of Magnetic Resonance Imaging" (Kluwer Academic Press, Boston, 1988). The book "Basics of Magnetic Resonance Imaging" is notable for being co-authored with his son and
namesake, William Oldendorf, Jr.
Oldendorf was one of the 30 attendees of the Neurology Computed Tomography Symposium, organized by William Kinkel from
September 24to September 25, 1975, in Buffalo, New York. He participated in the "ad-hoc" committee that unanimously voted to form the Society for Computerized Tomography so as to continue its educational activities. Realizing that other imaging modalities may eventually be prominent, the following year Oldendorf pushed to have the name of the society changed to Society for Computerized Tomography and Neuroimaging, and served as its president from 1978 to 1979. This society was to rename itself the American Society for Neuroimaging(ASN) in 1981, also with the prodding of Oldendorf.
Oldendorf was on several editorial boards and was a Fellow of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1992, he became the first neurologist ever to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Awards and Prizes
In 1974, he shared the Ziedses des Plantes Gold Medal (given by the German Society of Neuroradiology and the Medical Physics Society of
Wurzburgin) with Godfrey Hounsfield. Oldendorf was also awarded the Albert and Mary Lasker Award for Clinical Research in 1975 along with Prof. Hounsfield for "concepts and experiments which directly anticipated and demonstrated the feasibility of computerized tomography, which has revolutionized the field of neurological diagnosis". He received a Special Leadership Award from the American Academy of Neurologyin 1980 for "contributions to clinical neurology, including computerized tomographic scanning, studies on the blood-brain barrier, and research on cerebral metabolism." In 1981 he received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Serviceand the Medical Sciences Award from the UCLA Alumni Association.
Oldendorf was also
* Fellow of the
Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers(1986),
* Distinguished Founder of the American Board of Nuclear Medicine Science,
* Honorary Doctorate of Science (1982) from
Albany Medical Collegeand Union College,
* Honorary Doctorate of Science (1986) from
St. Louis University, and
* Keynote Speaker at the annual meeting of the
Japanese Society of Neuroradiologyin Tokyo in February, 1990
Controversy and the Nobel Prize
Despite all his contributions to medical science, and despite the awards won in conjunction with the other eventual winners, Oldendorf was not awarded the
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicinewith his colleagues Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan Cormack in 1979. This was in concordance with the Nobel committee's tradition of denying the prize to researchers in applied research (who have M.D. degrees) in favor of researchers in the basic sciences (who have Ph.D. degrees). Rosalyn Yalow, a Nobel laureate herself, nominated Oldendorf for the prize and was reportedly upset that he did not get it. In the January 1980 issue of the journal "Science" (vol. 207, page 31), William J. Broad wrote an article titled "The Riddle of the Nobel Debate" in which he posited that politics in Stockholm forced the removal of Dr. Oldendorf's name during the nomination process. It was theorized that giving the prize to another American could sway pending patent litigation in Europe over the rights to the CT Scanner.
Death and Legacy
Despite the controversy over the Nobel Prize, Oldendorf was remarkably aplomb about the issue. He was supposed to have remarked
He died unexpectedly on
December 14, 1992from the complications of heart disease. In his eulogy, L. Jolyon West (Chairman of Psychiatryat [http://www.psychiatry.ucla.edu/ UCLA] ) stated,
He was survived by his wife, Stella Oldendorf, three sons, and the implications of his work which are still being investigated.
In his honor, The
Oldendorf Awardis given annually by the American Society of Neuroimagingbased on the submission of a manuscript that involves clinical research in computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, SPECTor PET scanning.
* [http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=hb0h4n99rb&doc.view=content&chunk.id=div00058&toc.depth=1&brand=calisphere&anchor.id=0 Biography of Dr. Oldendorf]
* [http://snap.asnweb.org/index.php?src=gendocs&link=ASNHistory&category=History Role of Dr. Oldendorf in formation of the ASN]
* [http://www.ajnr.org/cgi/content/full/21/3/605 Article from American Journal of Neuroradiology regarding the Controversy over the Nobel Prize]
* [http://circres.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/17/6/532.pdf Article on blood-brain barrier co-authored by Dr. Oldendorf]
* [http://jnm.snmjournals.org/cgi/reprint/10/4/184.pdf Another article on Nuclear Medicine co-authored by Dr. Oldendorf]
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