Taiwanese research team devises new needle for epidurals

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Page 3

A research team from National Yang Ming University and Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday introduced an invention they said would help increase the accuracy and safety of epidural anesthesia — an epidural needle with a high-frequency ultrasound transducer embedded in it.

The leader of the National Science Council-funded project — Chiang Hui-hua (江惠華), a professor at the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering — said epidural anesthesia is often used to reduce pain in labor, for lower body surgery and for postoperative pain relief.

Epidural anesthesia is used in about 40,000 deliveries in Taiwan and million of deliveries worldwide annually, she said, adding that the team believes its invention can improve the process of giving epidurals, helping both anesthetists and less-experienced doctors.

An epidural is given by inserting a long epidural needle through the bones in a patient’s spine, through the ligaments and into the epidural space. A lumbar epidural catheter is then inserted into the body to deliver the anesthesia. Anesthetists and doctors have traditionally located the epidural space, which is only about 2mm to 7mm thick, by manual touch.

“It [the procedure] has been described as piercing through darkness,” she said, adding that anesthetists and doctors sometimes have difficulty finding the epidural space accurately because of the physical differences in people’s bodies.

Ting Chien-kun (丁乾坤), an anesthesiologist at the hospital, said the risk of failure in giving an epidural is not particularly high, but in about 1 percent to 3 percent of the cases, the epidural needle goes in too far, causing cerebrospinal fluid leak out into the epidural space, which can cause a post-dural puncture headache.

Describing their creation as the “eyes of the needle,” the team said the invention can help practitioners determine the location of the needle by monitoring signals emitted by the transducer.

Having conducted tests on pigs, the team hopes the new needle can be used in human clinical trials as soon as next year, after they are granted a patent for it.