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Robert S. Ledley, DDS, the man who invented the whole-body CT scanner, died this week. He’s not a household name, but he should be—particularly in the households of radiologists.

Dr. Ledley (he became a dentist because his parents thought he needed something to fall back on in case he couldn’t find a job related to his first love, physics) died on Tuesday in Kensington, Maryland. He was 86. His son Fred said the cause of death was Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1973, Dr. Ledley and his National Biomedical Research Foundation were based at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Georgetown wanted to buy a CT scanner, a new device that directed X-rays through a water tank and could image only a patient’s head. Dr. Ledley offered to build one for half of the then–going rate of $500,000.

He and his team enlisted the help of machinists at Georgetown and auto-body specialists at a nearby Cadillac dealership. And in 1974, they created the Automatic Computerized Transverse Axial (ACTA) scanner. It eliminated the water tank and could image the entire body. The prototype is at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History; you can see a photo of it and Dr. Ledley here. Because of it, Dr. Ledley was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

An article in the May-June 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association said:

When he described to his colleagues what he wanted to create, no one could envision that it would work. Well, his motto is ‘if you don’t know, then make it up.’ So he made a model of balsa wood and showed it to his co-workers, and they reacted immediately by saying, ‘Oh, okay, let’s build it.’ This device revolutionized the fields of radiology and medical imaging.

The article, by Naomi C. Broering, accompanied the presentation of the American College of Medical Informatics‘ Morris F. Collen Award to Dr. Ledley for contributions to medical informatics.

Dr. Ledley developed a number of other devices, most of them computer-related, and founded several scientific journals. For more about his extraordinary life, see his New York Times obituary and his Wikipedia page (don’t sneer; it’s very well done).

When he met the woman who would become his wife, he told her he intended to “push forward the frontiers of scientific knowledge.” He succeeded. Everyone, especially radiologists, owes him thanks.

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A real-world clinical trial conforms that magnetic brain stimulation can treat depression. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge


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