The Weiss Epidural Needle
Abstract Number: SAT-57
Abstract Type: Case Report/Case Series
In 1901, two French physicians Jean-Anthanase Sicard and Fernand Cathelin established the intentional administration of epidural anesthesia. Since then, epidural needles have developed during the past several decades as physicians and manufacturers have kept exploring innovative techniques to influence the quality of anesthesia.
Exactly one hundred years ago, Jess Bernard Weiss, was born on January 11th, 1917 in New York City, who is best known for designing the Weiss epidural needle. He spent first two years of college at City College of New York and transferred to University of Alabama. Dr. Weiss went to medical school at St. Mungoes Medical School at the University of Glasgow, Scotland; returned to the U.S. because of World War II, and graduated from Middlesex Medical School in Massachusetts. He was drafted into Navy after his internship during World War II. After completing a residency in anesthesia at the Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, which is called Boston University now, in the early 1950s after being a general practitioner, Dr. Weiss was recalled into the Navy. His whole family went to Guam for two years, and he was the only anesthesiologist for many thousand square miles.
Later, he completed an anesthesiology residency at Boston University. Dr. Weiss returned to practice at Boston Lying-In Hospital Harvard Medical School after another tour in the Navy, and later the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. He served as Vice Chair of Anesthesia at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital before his retirement.
Dr. Weiss made valuable contributions to the design of the epidural needle. In 1961, he added wings at the end of the needle which allow the users to have better control over the needle. Because Dr. Weiss practiced "hanging drop" method, the addition of wings accommodated him ability to hold the needle with both hands while observing the fluid flowing as the tip of needle arrived epidural space. The slightly curved wing-design also added ergonomics to the needle which fits the human’s thumbs better while adding stability and control. Dr. Weiss hand sanded the tip of the first Weiss needle. The myth of this move made majority of people believed that he "dulled the needle tip" or he "advocated for a blunt tip" to the epidural needle. The new tip design slightly moved the dura before it being torn by the needle. These design changes saved tens of thousands patients from wet-taps over the decades. Dr. Sanjay Datta also mentioned the advantage of Weiss needle tip would allow the practitioner to "push the dura mater forward without perforating it, thus artificially creating the negative epidural pressure necessary for the ‘hanging drop’ method in the pregnant women".
1. Interview with Susan Friedman.
2. Frölich MA, et al. Anesthesia and Analgesia 2001.
3. Broussard DM, et al. American Society of Anesthesiologists 2008.
4. Giuca MS, et al. Bulletin of Anesthesia History 2013.