Weiss, Soma, 1899-1942

Alternative names
Birth 1898
Death 1942

Biographical notes:

Soma Weiss (1899-1942) was Physician-in-Chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School. He also served as Director of the Second and Fourth Harvard Medical Services at Boston City Hospital. Weiss' research focused on biochemistry, the pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease, and clinical pharmacology of therapeutics.

From the description of Papers, 1922-1957. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 230834840

Soma Weiss (SW) was appointed Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School and Physician-in-Chief of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1939. He was born on January 27, 1899 in Bestercze, Hungary, the son of Ignac and Leah Kahan Weiss. At age seventeen, SW began to research respiratory metabolism in the laboratory of Dr. Hari at the Royal Hungarian University in Budapest and published his first scientific paper, The Significance of the Increased Respiratory Quotient in Forced Breathing and Increased Muscle Work, at age 19. He later served as Demonstrator and Researcher in Physiology and Biochemistry at the Royal Hungarian University before leaving Europe. In 1920, SW moved to New York City and attended Columbia University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1921. After admission to Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, SW was appointed an Assistant in the Department of Pharmacology as a student and published his first American research paper on the reflex nature of the emetic action of digitalis under the guidance of Dr. Robert Hatcher. In 1923, SW received the MD from Cornell and began a two-year internship at Bellevue Hospital. SW moved to Boston in 1925 to join Dr. Francis Peabody of Boston City Hospital (BCH) at the newly established Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, which combined clinical research with patient care.

Beginning as a Research Fellow, SW had consecutive appointments as Associate Director of the Harvard Medical Unit at BCH in 1930, Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services (Harvard) at BCH in 1932, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) the same year. SW spent the next seven years at BCH as an administrator, teacher, and researcher. He integrated the three intern programs of Boston University, Harvard, and Tufts at BCH. At the same time, his continued research in biochemistry, the pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease, and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (in which he often served as his own test subject) resulted in a number of publications. At the Thorndike, SW worked with Kenneth Mallory in 1929 to describe “Mallory-Weiss Syndrome,” a condition in which forceful retching causes a tear in the esophagus, eventually leading to internal bleeding. He also collaborated with James Porter Baker in 1933 to publish the first comprehensive description of carotid sinus syncope, or “Weiss-Baker Syndrome.”

In September 1939, SW was appointed to succeed Dr. Henry Christian as the second Physician-in-chief of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH); at the same time, he was appointed Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at HMS. While at PBBH, SW continued to serve his hospital, his students, and his community. SW was a devoted mentor to many HMS students, as well as to a great number of BCH and PBBH interns; many of his students joined leading medical schools and hospitals across America. SW believed strongly in the continuing education of the medical profession, giving many public lectures and graduate clinics during his tenure at BCH and PBBH, as well as extending an open invitation to visiting colleagues to join him on Grand Rounds at both hospitals.

Despite the increase in administrative and teaching responsibilities that accompanied his appointment at PBBH, SW’s continued to pursue his research interests. He published in the fields of pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, adding works such as Preeclamptic and Eclamptic Toxemia of Pregnancy (co-authored with Lewis Dexter) to a list that would eventually include more than two hundred publications. SW also served on a number of Harvard Medical School committees, including the Committee on Pharmacology and the Committee on Bacteriology, both of which the he chaired.

SW was active in more than two dozen different professional associations, including the American College of Physicians, the AMA Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, and the American Foundation for Studies in Government. At the start of World War II, he became involved in relief organizations, such as the Boston Committee for Medical Émigrés and the Russian War Relief.

Weiss and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School established the annual “Soma Weiss Research Day,” first sponsored by SW in 1940, as an opportunity for students to share their research with other members of the Harvard community. On January 31, 1942, SW died suddenly from a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage. His death, at age 43, shocked the international medical community.

From the guide to the Papers, 1922-1957, (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.)


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  • Harvard Medical School--Study and teaching
  • Drugs, Investigational
  • Physiology, Pathological
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Drugs--Research
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Pharmacology, Clinical
  • Physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular system--Diseases


  • Internists


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