Mayo Clinic helped U.S., allies win World War II

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Perhaps the Mayo Clinic discovery that most affected the future of humanity was instead related to war.

Mayo's aero-medical research unit was offered to the U.S. government for $1 per year, according to Mayo.

World War II pilots frequently crashed and died due to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, and blackouts when blood rushed from their heads during high-speed dives that increased gravity or "G-forces."

Mayo Clinic's Dr. Earl Wood and his team developed air bladders to prevent that from happening.

Many believe that helped turn the tide of World War II and gave the Allies the advantage needed to win the war. The U.S. Army had reached out to Mayo Clinic, asking for help with the problem and Mayo recruited Wood for the task.

To make a secret research centrifuge at Mayo in Rochester, Wood and colleagues recycled 40-ton wheels from an old brewery.Volunteers could hear the flywheels underneath rumbling as the centrifuge spun.

A modified version of the "G" suit they developed is "worn today by military pilots," according to the clinic.

"The research unit at Mayo has had an important influence on commercial and military aviation as well as the space program," its website says.

Volunteers who were tested on the thing passed out and lost vision, Wood told the Post-Bulletin in 2008. So he developed an "ear oximeter" to monitor the volunteers. Today, a similar device is placed on a patient's finger to monitor oxygen levels.

Wood used the ear oximeter to predict when pilot volunteers were about to pass out. When a pilot's oxygen levels dropped, within moments he would pass out.

Charles Lindbergh spent a week at Mayo as part of the aviation-research program.

Mayo researchers developed the pressurized flight suit (G-suit), but also experimented with high-altitude skydiving and developed oxygen masks so pilots and passengers could fly at higher altitudes.

After the war, President Harry S. Truman gave Wood a citation for his contributions to the war effort.

According to Mayo, the "aero-medical research has led to advances in patient care at Mayo, including methods and instruments for heart catheterization."

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