Radiologist, joint inventor of the CT scanner
Born: 5 April, 1923, in Pretoria.
Died: 12 March, 2006, in North Connel, aged 82.
APART from following a most distinguished career as a consultant radiologist at Atkinson Morley's Hospital in west London, Jamie Ambrose developed and perfected the CT scanner that is now recognised as one of the most important advances in medical diagnostics of recent years. In 1971, this quiet and modest man, along with the physicist Godfrey Hounsfield, performed the first CT scan and medical science and the detection of growths on the brain was changed immediately. The invention has made life easier for countless sufferers, and faster and more accurate diagnoses have helped the medical profession immeasurably. Ambrose was an innovative and positive force in British medicine and diagnostic imaging has never looked back.
James Abraham Edward Ambrose was born in Pretoria, in South Africa. As a young man he tried to volunteer for war service despite only being 16. Two years later, he joined the South African Air Force and saw active service in the Mediterranean before being attached to the RAF with whom he flew Spitfires in the Middle East and southern France. In 1945, he completed his studies at Cape Town University before, in 1952, going to England to study radiology at Middlesex Hospital. He first practised at Guy's and rose to the post of senior registrar.
In 1959, Ambrose was appointed senior registrar at Atkinson Morley's Hospital, in Wimbledon, and within three years was a consultant. The hospital is one of the largest centres for neurosurgery in London and Ambrose specialised in providing images of soft tissue of the brain. He was recognised in the profession as an authority in the diagnosis of neurological diseases so it was no surprise to his colleagues when the Department of Health suggested Ambrose meet Godfrey Hounsfield, who was then an electronics engineer working for EMI.
The two had a somewhat frosty first encounter. Hounsfield had already been turned down by another radiologist (who considered him a crank) and Ambrose found him unforthcoming about the exact details of his invention. But the two soon recognised each other's skills and Ambrose was perceptive and wise enough not to dismiss any of Hounsfield's proposals. To his considerable credit, Ambrose immediately appreciated the potential of the scanner.
The development was carried out at Atkinson Morley's and a prototype was being tried out within a year. On 1 October, 1971, the two carried out the first scan on an actual patient. It showed a clear and recognisable image of a brain tumour. Medical science had made an extraordinary leap forward and it saw the beginning of digitalisation in the imaging field and manipulation of images.
Trials were equally successful and in 1972 the two read a paper at the British Institute of Radiology congress. Later that year, Ambrose addressed 2,000 doctors in Chicago who, to his considerable embarrassment, promptly rose and gave him a standing ovation.
He retired in 1988, much feted by his profession and the medical community. Many colleagues were of the opinion that while Hounsfield was given a Nobel Prize for medicine and knighted, Ambrose's career went unrecognised by the authorities. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and, among other honours, awarded the Gold Medal at the Royal College of Radiologists. Ambrose retired to Argyllshire and enjoyed the beauties of Loch Etive, becoming a keen supporter of the Oban Medical Society and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
In fact, Ambrose had married a Scottish doctor from Greenlaw whom he had met while both were studying in London. Sheena Ambrose's brother was a GP in the Oban area and the couple had often visited Argyllshire on holiday. He was a keen horticulturist and ornithologist and much enjoyed walking the countryside around Oban with new and old friends.
The medical profession has rightly recognised the pioneering work that Ambrose accomplished in the Seventies. An imaginative engineer (Hounsfield) and a brilliant neuroradiologist (Ambrose) gave the world a scanner that had far-reaching effects on clinical diagnoses. A paper specially commissioned for a medical magazine to celebrate the scanner's development concludes: "The computer scanner represents one of the most important contributions to neurosurgical practices in the past 100 years and its development is a remarkable story of scientific development."
Ambrose is survived by his wife, Sheena, whom he married in 1965, and their son and daughter.