The Clinical History of PET Scans


In 1953, Dr. Gordon Brownwell, a neurosurgeon in Boston, helped to diagnose a young girl that could not read due to a neurological problem. He invented a scanning machine that showed a tumor in the girl's brain. By using this machine, the tumor was located and removed. Dr. Brownwell's invention is the basis of the PET scan machines.


In 1973, Michael E. Phelps, a medical examiner at UCLA, invented the PET scan. Phelps produced four generations of PET scanners, and he helped with the advancement of medical imaging. All modern PET scans are based on his prototypes.

The 1970s

During the 1970s, PET scans were seen as new, innovative tools for viewing diseases in the body. Because the first scanners only held a small amount of radiation for transmitting an image, the images obtained were of low quality and resolution. Also, during this time, a large team of medical professionals were needed to properly operate each machine.

The 1980s

The technology used in PET scans was more advanced during the 1980s. Images with better resolution were produced on commercial PET scanners. The operations of the scanners were automated, making it possible for a physician or trained technician to use the scanners without the help of a professional team. Accordingly, the cost and complexity of the scanners were reduced.

The 21st Century

Today, PET scanners are advanced and expensive equipment. They can now produce movies of the body, and they are easier to operate and install. One of the major advances of PET technology is that it is combined with a CT scanner and used as one device. The combination PET/CT scanner provides more information for disease diagnosis. No longer present are the complications and inconveniences involved with earlier PET scan models. The term PET is the abbreviation of Positron Emission Tomography. A PET scan is an X-ray that displays images of the body by using radiation. PET scans are used to demonstrate the presence of cancer, neurological disorders, heart disease and other abnormal activity that may occur in the body. The clinical history of PET scans shows that they evolved from complex inventions into more sophisticated, modern machines.