June 13, 2019, by Kathryn Steenson

MRI Collections Project: the papers of Brian Worthington

This is a guest post from Rachael Orchard, Archives Assistant for the MRI Collections Project.

Professor Brian Worthington’s papers form part of theWellcome-funded MRI Collections Project currently under way in Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham. He was a radiologist who was heavily involved in the development and use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose medical conditions without the need for invasive surgical procedures.

Brian Worthington came to work at Nottingham after growing up in Oldham and studying in London. Born on 9 June 1938, he grew up in modest circumstances, and his parents fully expected him to leave school at 16 and start work. Luckily his school persuaded them to let him stay on to study A-levels, after which he won a scholarship to Guy’s Hospital in London and graduated with MB and BS in Medicine and a BSc in Physiology. He moved to Nottingham with his wife and two sons in 1970 after working in The London Hospital, starting as Consultant Radiologist at Nottingham General and City Hospitals and becoming Professor in Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Nottingham in 1981. He first worked with Bill Moore’s group and then with Peter Mansfield’s on developments in new techniques, examining the medical possibilities for the applications of MRI.

Files containing X-ray films and CT scans, from the Brian Worthington collection.

Professor Worthington’s collection is interesting because it primarily relates to the practical uses of research into MRI, such as the clinical applications of MRI images of the human body. This contrasts with Sir Peter Mansfield’s collection, for example, which focuses on the fundamental research and development required to create and capture such images. Doctors were able to use MRI to get fast, accurate scans which enabled them to start treating their patients more quickly, and patients could receive their results without the need for risky operations.

He was very interested in the teaching side of MRI. In the 1970s and 1980s rapid progression in MRI meant that the technique would be of great use to doctors and radiologists, but it was such a new subject at the time that people needed to be taught to read the results. The Brian Worthington collection includes thousands of 35 mm slides which he used to demonstrate new procedures, and took with him to help with lectures and conferences he was invited to speak at around the world.

Example of presentation boards used at conferences

He kept boards from presentations which would have been stuck to walls at conferences to give an overview of his talks.  There are also X-ray films and CT scan images which he kept in teaching files for his work at Nottingham.  His training taught some of the next generation of clinical radiologists who went on to develop further applications of MRI.

The research papers he accumulated also covered other subjects such as image analysis and mental rotation of medical images, and he was fascinated with how people viewed objects differently.  This would have a big impact on whether a radiologist was able to make a correct diagnosis based on the X-ray or scan.  He also kept lots of scientific articles for research, some of which he wrote with Peter Mansfield and other colleagues at the University.

Professor Worthington also kept notebooks on his research and experiments.  The books are stuffed with additional loose pages, photographs and handwritten notes.  One of the challenges when cataloguing a collection like this is to become used to a person’s handwriting and the abbreviations they use.  Although his handwriting is quite neat, it is very small!

Brain scans glued into a notebook and annotated in pen

One of the files concerns a visit to Nottingham University by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh which was part of the Silver Jubilee Tour of Nottingham on 28 July 1977.  There was a display of MRI material, and Worthington kept the invitation to him and his wife as a memento.

Brian Worthington belonged to many societies and was proud to become the President of the British Institute of Radiology for 1988-1989.  He kept a file of papers relating to his inaugural Presidential Address on ‘Limitations on a theme’.  He was also honoured to receive the Trent Medal for Excellence in the Promotion of Health Care in 1997, keeping letters of congratulations and mentions of the award in an annual report to commemorate the occasion.

Work on the MRI Collections Project is due to finish at the end of September 2019, when the catalogues of our MRI collections will be available online, and access to the collections will be possible, by appointment, in the Manuscripts and Special Collections Reading Room.


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