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Experimental Arrest of Cerebral Blood Flow in Human Subjects: The Red Wing Studies Revisited


Loss of consciousness in pilots during rapid ascent after bombing missions was a major problem in World War II, and experiments were undertaken to study the cause of this phenomenon. Postulating impaired cerebral blood flow as a likely mechanism, the investigators developed a neck device, the KRA Cuff, which when inflated could shut off blood supply to the brain. With cessation of blood flow for up to 100 seconds, the investigators observed a sequence of responses, including unconsciousness, followed by dilated pupils, tonic/clonic movements, loss of bladder and eventually bowel control, and appearance of pathological reflexes. This study, carried out in prisoners and patients with schizophrenia in 1941–42, largely disappeared from public discourse for a number of years. It has received occasional attention subsequently and been considered controversial. Recently discovered records, including extensive written and photographic data from the studies, shed new light on the methods and motives of the research team. We describe here this new information and its implications for the scientific and ethical assessment of the study.

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