A Brief History of Medical Physics in Iran

Compiled by Nima Kasraie

The first x-ray units to be imported to Iran are those purchased by a certain Ebrahim Khan Sahhafbashi, during the Constitutionalist era of Iran in the early 1900s.[1] There is also an account of an x-ray unit operating at Sina Hospital in Tehran in 1924.[7] In 1930, the first attempts to construct an X-ray unit were made by Mahmoud Hessabi (a renowned physicist in Iran) at the Daneshsaray-e Alee Institute in Tehran, using technical know-how from French colleagues at The Sorbonne.[6]

The wide use of radiation emitting equipment in medicine in Iran dates back to 1960 when efforts were made to quantify in-vivo Iodine at Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS). Back then, foreign experts from developed nations, namely Malcolm Cuthbert Nokes (from Great Britain), Dr. Van Heerden (from South Africa), Dr. Hisada (from Japan), and others were active in radiological and nuclear medicine projects in Iran and played a major role in advancing the field in the country.

In 1961 Sadegh Nezam Mafi, began research with a thyroid scanner at Tehran’s Rhazes Hospital and went on to become Iran’s ‘father of nuclear medicine’. In 1966, Iran’s first nuclear medicine clinic opened at TUMS, which was equipped with an Anger camera. Iran’s first gamma camera was actually a gift that originated from a British company by the name of EKCO (E.K. Cole Ltd.) in 1962. [2]

During this time, outside Iran, an Iranian trained physician by the name of Abass Alavi, who was a student and a member of David Kuhl's team, was making cutting edge advances in SPECT and molecular imaging. He went on to become a pioneer in PET tracer development several years later at The University of Pennsylvania. Shown below is one of the first ever whole-brain (planar) and tomographic FDG images of brain function of a normal volunteer revealing high concentrations of the agent in cortical and subcortical gray matter.[4]

The first usage of Tc-99m took place at Tehran's Pahlavi Hospital (now known as Imam Khomeini Hospital) in 1971 as a result of another gift, this time by a private donor named “Mrs. Gharegozlu”.[2] The same hospital is also where Iran’s first radiotherapy clinic started operation in 1968 using a Co-60 source. And only a few years later Linac systems started working in patient clinics. The image seen below shows a government issued postage stamp celebrating the technology in the 1970s.

In 1966, The Iranian Society of Radiology was founded. The same year, a 'radiation physics' program started working at TUMS.[5] A year later, in 1967, Iran’s first research nuclear reactor was inaugurated at Tehran’s Amir Abad area (where "The Geophysics Institute" and Iran's Atomic Energy Organization were located). The 5MW reactor had several beamlines for producing radioisotopes, and was built by the American firm AMF Atomics. President Lyndon B. Johnson described the center as such:


“an operating laboratory and a meeting-ground where Iranian scientists and ours will work side-by-side to learn more about nuclear energy and the many blessings that its peaceful development promises for mankind”.[3]

The first graduate program started admitting students in Medical Physics in 1976 at Jondishapur University in Ahvaz.[5] The Iranian Medical Physics Association was established in 1991[8], two years later becoming a member of the International Medical Physics Organization (IOMP). By 2020, Iran had 350 members in the organization[8]. Today, Iran has one of the largest Medical Physics communities in the Middle East region, with 14 medical physics graduate programs (with a certification process[9]), and six peer-reviewed medical physics-related journals published inside Iran, as of 2016.[5]   



[1]: Iran and the Surrounding World: Interactions in Culture and Cultural Politics. NR. Keddie, R Matthee. University of Washington Press. 2011. ISBN0295800240. p.255


[2]: Aftab newspaper interview with Sadegh Nezam Mafi, Jun 14, 2008. (Link)


[3]: Iran and the Nuclear Question: History and Evolutionary Trajectory. M. Homayounvash. Taylor and Francis. 2016. ISBN 1317197658 p.20

[4]: The conception of FDG-PET imaging. Alavi A, Reivich M. SeminNucl Med. 2002 Jan;32(1):2-5.

[5]: Mahdavi SR, Rasuli B, Niroomand-Rad A. Education and training of medical physics in Iran: The past, the present and the future. Phys Med. 2017 Apr;36:66-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmp.2017.03.007. Epub 2017 Mar 22. PMID: 28410688.

[6]: Link: (سونوگرافی و رادیولوژی سرو اصفهان

[7]: Link: (موسسه خیریه محک

[8]: AFOMP Newsletter, 2020, June, Vol 12, No 2. (Link)

[9]: Khaledi N, et al. The Current Status of Medical Physicist Certification Program in Iran, Compared to Turkey, China, Japan, UK, and USA. Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine. 2020. 43: 467-471