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South African Doctor Cures Deafness With 1st Ever Middle Ear Transplant Using 3D Technology

Saturday May 18, 2019

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A South African doctor and his team successfully pioneered a transplant of a patient’s middle ear using 3D technology to cure his deafness, making it the first in the world. This groundbreaking procedure offers hope to many of those who suffer from loss of hearing.

The first patient to receive the transplant was a 35-year-old man who suffered hearing loss as a result of a car accident that damaged his inner ear, according to a press release by the South African Government. The operation was performed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team from the University of Pretoria (UP) Faculty of Health at the Steve Biko Academic hospital in Pretoria on March 13. Using 3D technology, he was able to recreate the bones—the hammer, anvil, stirrup, and the ossicles that make up the inner ear, thus replacing the damaged ones.

The surgery was successfully completed in one and a half hours, owing to the severity of the injury, according to a report by the Legit.

Alluding to when the patient will be able to get their hearing back, Tshifularo said: “The patients will get their hearing back immediately but since they will be wrapped in bandages, only after two weeks, when they are removed, will they be able to tell a difference.”

“By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedures. We will use titanium for this procedure, which is biocompatible. We use an endoscope to do the replacement, so the transplant is expected to be quick, with minimal scarring,” explained Tshifularo.

The best part about the surgery is that it will be available to patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly.

Professor Tshifularo has focused his Ph.D. over the last decade on conductive hearing loss and came up with the idea of using 3D technology to recreate any of the inner ear bones that may be damaged, thus restoring a patient’s hearing.

The professor is proud of their accomplishment, and as Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat studies, ENT) at the University of Pretoria, he realizes the significance of his pioneering work.

“It also means that we have done something new in the world and people will remember us for that,” he said. Tshifularo is the first black ENT specialist in South Africa and is considered among the best in his field in the country as per the university’s website.

Tshifularo stated that “3D technology is allowing us to do things we never thought we could.” He would like to make this technology affordable and is looking for sponsors to bring this to the medical community.

“Because we are doing it in the country and we are going to manufacture here, it has to be affordable for our people in state hospitals,” Tshifularo said. “It will be very accessible because as long as we can train the young doctors to be able to do this operation, then it will be accessible for them as well.”

Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi is urging businesses and sponsors to provide backing for the 3D technology. “As a Department of Health, we shall do everything in our power to assist and mobilize resources to make sure that Prof. Tshifularo gets all the help he needs for this far-reaching innovation,” he said.

Professor Tshifularo has previously designed and patented a number of medical devices used in the area of ENT today.

South Africa claims to be the first to perform a heart transplant in 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard. Now, they have the added prestige of the first 3D technology ear transplant performed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo.

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