After performing the first transplant of a middle ear in history, a team of South African doctors in the capital city Pretoria has been hailed as pioneers in the field of global medicine.
They used 3D-printed technology to reconstruct the broken bones of a middle ear, and the procedure is a long-term solution to conductive hearing loss.
It can be performed on people of all ages, including newborn babies, as it effectively treats deafness caused by various reasons, including physical damage or infection in the middle ear as well as congenital birth defects and metabolic diseases.
Their first patient was a 35-year-old man who lost his hearing due to damage to his middle ear that occurred during a car accident. The surgery was performed on13th March 2019 and lasted for an hour and a half.
The South African Hearing Institute explains that the hearing ability naturally declines from age 30 or 40, so by the age of 80, half of us will suffer from significant hearing loss.
Yet, even though hearing loss is a natural part of the process of aging, it can also be caused by infections or disease, may be inherited, or a result of physical damage to the ears or head.
Fortunately, this innovative surgery is able to change the seemingly permanent and unavoidable loss of hearing.
Professor Mashudu Tshifularo had been studying conductive hearing loss for more than ten years, and in the past few years, he has been investigating the use of 3D printing technologies for scanning and recreating the smallest bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear– the hammer, anvil, and stirrup.
These three incredibly tiny bones in the middle ear transmit sounds and vibrations from atmosphere to the inner ear. He explained that the replacement of only the ossicles that are not functioning properly is less risky than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedure.
They use titanium, which is biocompatible, and an endoscope to do the replacement, so the transplant is performed fast, with minimal scarring.
Tshifularo also adds that patients get their hearing ability immediately after the surgery, but as they will be wrapped in bandages, only after two weeks, when they are removed, they will they be able to tell a difference.
He is proud of their success in revolutionizing the new approach to treating hearing loss, but he also points out that it is a must for the treatment to eventually become accessible and affordable for poor and working-poor patients that use the services in the state hospitals in South Africa. He also added that they will train young doctors to perform the operation.
He also hopes that his team will receive the necessary funding from the government and private sponsors in order to be able to get their innovative approach to hearing loss treatment off the ground.
According to the South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, the Department of Health will do everything they can to mobilize resources to ensure that the team of Prof. Tshifularo will receive all the help it needs for this far-reaching innovation.