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Centrifuge “Therapy” for Psychiatric Patients in Germany in the Early 1800s

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Harsch V. Centrifuge “therapy” for psychiatric patients in Germany in the early 1800s. Aviat Space Environ Med 2006; 77:157–60.

In 1818, Dr. Ernst Horn (1774–1848) reported miraculous cures for patients suffering from hysteria through the use of centrifuges at the psychiatric wards of the Charité-Hospital in Berlin during the previous decade. In his book, “Public Account Concerning My 12 years’ Service as Second Physician of the Royal Hospital in Berlin, Including Experiences from Hospitals and Mental Institutions, ” a full description of the indications and methods for treatment of mental illness, including technical data and construction costs for a rotating bed and rotating chair, is given. The rotating bed was turned by a crankshaft connected by ropes to a capstan. Slowing or stopping was achieved by tensing a rope around a wheel near the ceiling. With a diameter of 13 ft, this therapeutic instrument was capable of producing up to 4 to 5 −Gz in the head region. Several hundred patients and many volunteer subjects, including medical doctors, were reported to have been exposed to the rotating devices, along with some miraculous cures. Apart from the ethical problems associated with this type of torturous treatment, the rotating bed could be described as an ancient centrifuge. With the well-documented observations made on this device, the very first description of G-induced biomedical effects, such as shortness of breath and a feeling of oppression and anxiety, was given: These observations were comparable to those made one century later on human centrifuges and in flight.

Keywords: Ernst Horn; Germany; aerospace medicine; centrifuge; history; medical ethics; rotating bed; rotating chair

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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