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February 5, 2020

MRI Pioneer John Mugler Named to National Academy of Inventors

John Mugler uses an MRI

The University of Virginia’s John P. Mugler III, PhD, has been named a fellow by the National Academy of Inventors in recognition of his game-changing work in medical imaging, particularly MRI.

Mugler, of UVA’s School of Medicine and School of Engineering, is one of 168 academic innovators being recognized by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). The NAI Fellows Program salutes “academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”

“It is a great honor for my work to be recognized in this way by the National Academy of Inventors. Getting to this point would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of wonderful colleagues at UVA and in the medical-imaging industry,” said Mugler, of UVA’s Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “It is very gratifying to see that techniques developed at UVA have made a difference in the clinical care of patients. As a medical-imaging developer, this is the most satisfying outcome that one can achieve.”

Transforming MRI

Mugler was instrumental in developing innovative pulse sequences that revolutionized magnetic resonance imaging, making it practical to create high-contrast 3D images quickly and with high resolution. Previously, MRI machines produced primarily two-dimensional “slices” for clinical imaging, but Mugler’s research allowed for the creation of detailed images that can be viewed from any angle. The increased detail allows doctors to identify subtle abnormalities earlier, leading to better diagnoses and treatment for patients.

Mugler’s work proved so important that it has been implemented in MRIs in hospitals and research institutions around the world.

“John earned this recognition because he has invented multiple major technologies in the field of MRI. All major MRI manufacturers currently provide multiple brain imaging techniques that John invented,” said Frederick H. Epstein, PhD, chairman of UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The simplest way to describe the impact of John’s work is to say, without exaggeration, that if you or anyone you know has ever had a brain MRI, their resulting diagnosis probably benefitted from John’s inventions.”

Mugler, UVA’s director of medical imaging research, also has been conducting cutting-edge work with hyperpolarized gases for imaging the lungs. These nontoxic, helium- and xenon-based approaches provide high-resolution images far superior to any existing clinical method. UVA is one of the top research and training institutions for lung research using these gases.

Mugler was previously recognized, with his colleague James R. Brookeman, as the 2009 Edlich-Henderson Inventors of the Year by the UVA Patent Foundation, now known as the UVA Licensing & Ventures Group.

“This recognition from the National Academy of Inventors is well deserved in light of John Mugler’s transformative work that has had concrete benefits for countless patients,” said David Wilkes, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “We congratulate him and look forward to seeing what he develops next to better the human condition.”

“John is a world-class researcher who has leveraged UVA’s strong collaborations between engineers and medical professionals to make the university an international center of excellence for medical imaging,” said Craig H. Benson, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering and himself an NAI fellow. “Thanks to innovations from John and other UVA faculty, people who suffer from cancer, lung disease, neurological disorders, cardiovascular conditions, among other issues, are receiving better diagnoses and care than ever before. John is an excellent addition to the National Academy of Inventors.”

Inspiring the Next Generation

The National Academy will induct the new fellows at a ceremony in April. In announcing the latest fellows, NAI President Paul R. Sanberg said, “The breadth and scope of their discovery is truly staggering. I’m excited not only see their work continue, but also to see their knowledge influence a new era of science, technology and innovation worldwide.”

The NIA previously inducted six other UVA inventors as fellows: Jayakrishna Ambati, Benson, Joe Campbell, George Gillies, the late John Herr and Barry Johnson. All are affiliated with either the School of Medicine or the School of Engineering. To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

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