Technology For Good: GE Curing and Innovation From X-rays to Women’s Health

This is the fourth in a series of posts entitled Technology for Good: A Historical Perspective From GE.  Last week, GE released all their of annual reports in one interactive data visualization.  This interactive data viz app  pulls together 120 years of their annual reports, showcasing GE’s long-standing tradition of technology for good. Learn more about GE’s history of innovation and see GE’s new Data Visualization in action.  GE is a 3p Sponsor.

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GE's technology has a leading role in the curing of disease.

“A 50,000,000-volt biased betatron producing high-energy x-rays is expected to have value in cancer research. It weighs eight tons and is a compact version of the 135-ton betatron operated at 100,000,000 volts in the laboratory for several years in atomic research.”

GE Annual Report, 1948

When exploring 120 years of GE annual reports with their new data visualization , it’s easy to see that cancer research has progressed since the above paragraph was published 64 years ago. The same goes for GE’s healthcare business, which currently employs 46,000 people worldwide. Since the 1970’s, GE innovation has improved the quality of healthcare while providing doctors the tools to catch deadly diseases like cancer before it is too late.
X-ray technology was GE’s first entrance into the healthcare industry. Twenty years after GE waded into this space, GE scientist Jacob G. Rabatin developed a highly efficient x-ray machine that allowed doctors to see more. That same machine dropped medical x-ray exposure to which patients were exposed down to one-quarter of the levels typical of standard x-ray devices.

By the 1970’s GE had ramped up new developments in healthcare. Internal medicine diagnostics progressed with a new scanner launched by GE’s Research and Development Center and Medical Systems Division in 1976. Called a “computed tomography scanner,” the machine could take detailed x-ray cross sections of the body in less than 5 seconds. That rate was 4 to 60 times faster than other total body scanners doctors had used at the time. Fidgety patients were no match for the scanner because new technologies reduced blurring and offered doctors a more lucid picture.

But one of GE’s greatest inventions that transformed healthcare was the magnetic resonance imaging system, or MRI, rolled out in 1983. The system was a stunning development for its time. For example, doctors could now work with patients suffering from knee or rotator cuff injuries without necessarily resorting to surgery. This new MRI machine used a superconducting magnet that had a pull 30,000 stronger than the earth’s magnetic field. Just 10 years later, a new development, the magnetic resonance-guided therapy system, allowed doctors to view internal organs in real-time while having direct access to the patient.

More recent innovations have helped doctors make quick life-or-death decisions. The LightspeedTM scanning device, introduced in 1998, gave doctors the ability to view multiple internal images quickly at a rate six times as fast as single-slice scanners–saving critical time in an emergency room. A year later, functional anatomy mapping helped doctors pinpoint exactly where a disease was located within a patient’s body. Full field digital mammography, introduced in 2000, was an important development in the fight against breast cancer because the images could be manipulated and provide more clarity.

And partly because of GE’s curing innovations, women’s healthcare has made important gains. For decades medical research had focused more on men than women. Medical research studies had often included more men than women, even though women suffer at a greater rate from strokes and heart disease than men. Add diseases like breast cancer and osteoporosis, and the need for more attention on women’s health is still apparent.

GE has had a central role in highlighting women’s health issues. From an analysis of women’s health in China to the comparison of breast cancer care around the world, GE has not only offered technological progress, but heightened awareness with initiatives including healthymagination. In fact, you can join the global conversation now on Twitter, and interact with the 120 years of annual reports in their new data visualization surfacing a wealth of innovations in the medical industry and beyond.

Leon Kaye, a history and international business major, is a journalist, sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy GE healthymagination.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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