Tributes to Aberdeen inventor who helped develop ‘game-changing’ MRI

Professor James Hutchison
Professor James Hutchison

An Aberdeen inventor who helped create one of the most revolutionary pieces of medical equipment in history has died aged 77.

Professor James Hutchison, known as Jim, was one of the brains behind the “game-changing” full-body MRI scanner.

In 1980 Prof Hutchison’s team successfully scanned their first patient with the mark-one version of the machine.

It would go on to transform the world of medicine with the technology still in use today through the hundreds of thousands of MRI scanners used globally.

Professor David Lurie, who joined Prof Hutchison’s team as a young researcher in Aberdeen after completing his PhD, paid tribute to his old mentor, calling him “the most capable scientist I ever met”.

He added: “He knew about everything. Not just about MRI – he had an incredibly broad knowledge of science and engineering.

“We in the group would occasionally come up with ideas and when we took them to Jim he’d sometimes say: ‘Oh yes, I thought about that a few years ago’. He’d look it up in his lab books and sure enough he’d find something similar from five years earlier.

“Nevertheless, when group members did come up with a new idea, Jim was incredibly supportive and would help us bring it to fruition by drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge.

“He was also an excellent teacher and would spend hours explaining theories and concepts to students.”

University of Aberdeen scientists designed the first MRI machine

Prof Lurie remembers that many in the scientific community dismissed the MRI as an idea because the images were not very clear. He said: “In the late seventies the mark-one machine was built and it was producing images but they were still very ‘blobby’ and certainly not of diagnostic quality.

“But in 1980, Jim co-invented spin-warp technique with Bill Edelstein, and the difference was night and day – it dramatically improved the images and they immediately became of diagnostic quality.

“Spin-warp is still used by every MRI scanner in the world today and we have Jim and Bill to thank for that.”

Prof Hutchison, who lived in Westhill, attended Blairgowrie High School before completing a PhD at the St Andrews University.

Having developed an expertise in magnetic resonance, he was appointed to Aberdeen University’s medical physics team in the sixties by Professor James Mallard.

Professor Steve Heys, head of Aberdeen University’s School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, said: “Professor Hutchison will be remembered as a true pioneer of MRI technology.

“Along with the team around him, they were a group that have changed the face of medical imaging – an impact still felt today with the use of their techniques in modern MRI machines.

“Our thoughts are with his wife Meg, who herself was an accomplished MRI scientist at Aberdeen, at this sad time.”

A funeral service will be held for Prof Hutchison at Westhill’s Trinity Church on Friday at 11.30am.