Press release | 7.6.2018
Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Munich, 7 June 2018 - German biophysicist Jens Frahm received the European Inventor Award 2018 in the "Research" category, one of five award categories, at a ceremony held today in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The European Patent Office (EPO) honoured the Max Planck scientist for his landmark improvements to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology that accelerated procedures and established MRI in clinical practice. Perfected in 1985, the inventor's Fast Low Angle Shot (FLASH) technique reduced MRI imaging times from minutes to seconds, while his follow-up invention (FLASH2) made it possible for doctors to produce the first-ever MRI videos of human physiology in real time.
"Jens Frahm's patented inventions have unlocked the potential of magnetic resonance imaging in public healthcare, paved the way for MRI to become a standard diagnostic tool in modern medicine, and benefited millions of patients over the past decades," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "His continuous work at the Max Planck Institute underscores the leading role of European inventors, scientists and research institutions in the field of medical technology."
The European Inventor Award ceremony at the Théâtre Alexandre Dumas was attended by some 600 guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science. The Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. The winners were chosen by an independent international jury from a nomination list of more than 500 individuals and teams of inventors put forward for this year's Award.
As part of a research team at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the early 1980s, Jens Frahm investigated the fundamental principles of a then new concept called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, the core technology behind MRI. While MRI held the promise to diagnose ailments such as brain tumours and heart disease far more accurately than X-ray, it proved too slow for medical practice. Changing the paradigm, Frahm sped up the process by using a small portion of the MRI signal for each of the many individual measurements, to obtain the necessary data for a high-resolution MRI scan within seconds. "We eliminated waiting times with FLASH technology. That was in 1985 and basically, it initiated the modern MRI," says the inventor. The rest is history: Leading manufacturers adopted Frahm's FLASH technique, and MRI scanners became standard diagnostic tools. An MRI scan is one of the safest medical procedures available. Today, MRI scans are performed more than 100 million times per year worldwide at hospitals around the world, every single one relying on Frahm's technology.
Jens Frahm would spend 25 years developing the concept's next evolution: Perfected in 2010, FLASH2 implements modern-day computer image reconstruction to create the world's first MRI videos at recording speeds up to 50 frames per second. "We're shifting magnetic resonance imaging from a photographic state to one that is filmed to directly depict, and film the physiological processes of any kind of human bodily function," says Frahm. FLASH2 provides doctors with a new method to observe beating hearts, moving joints, and complex processes like swallowing or speaking for new diagnostic insights. FLASH 2 is currently being tested for clinical use at universities in Germany, the UK and the US.
As the director of Biomedizinische NMR Forschungs GmbH, a non-profit company he set up in 1993 at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry to scale-up FLASH research, Jens Frahm orchestrates researchers perfecting diagnostic applications of real-time MRI images created via FLASH2. The FLASH platform is now the Max Planck Society's most profitable patent asset. Considered an institution in his field, Frahm has been recognised with the highest honours in medical imaging. In 2016, he joined a select group of only 20 scientists to become inducted into the German Research Hall of Fame for his pioneer work on MRI. "I worked all my life on MRI. For me as a physicist, this is a wonderful opportunity to do something useful, something meaningful, that benefits millions of people," says the inventor.
Note to editors: availability of AV and photo materials on 7 June 2018
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