Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team of surgeons have just completed an historic operation that will potentially help many more people who have have lost their hearing or the deaf.
Potentially the first procedure of its kind in the world specialists at the hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Pretoria (UP), has performed a middle ear transplant. The reconstructed parts of the ear, the hammer, anvil, and stirrup ossicles have been replaced with 3D printed titanium. Following the operation, Professor Tshifularo, who is also Head of UP’s Otorhinolaryngology Department, said “The operation went fantastically well and we are very excited.”
The first patient to undertake this landmark procedure is Thabo Moshiliwa, aged 40, who has middle ear damage resulting from an injury. For the operation, Moshiliwa’s ear was 3D scanned, and this data was used to model suitable ossicle implants.
“The innovation in this idea is to get the same size of the bone, position, shape, weight, and length and put it exactly where it needs to be – almost like a hip replacement,” explains Professor Tshifularo. “By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedures.” Titanium is selected as implant material due to its high biocompatibility rate. The team also uses an endoscope for the operation, making it minimally invasive to the patient. After the procedure, the effect on hearing is reportedly instantaneous. However, it can take up to two weeks for the patient to notice a difference due to bandages.
Deeming the first operation a success, Professor Tshifularo’s team are now planning to conduct a second operation on a patient Simon Bohale, aged 62. Born with an underdeveloped middle ear, Bohale’s condition worsened when he worked as a welder. In an attempt to correct these complications, Bohle has already undergone two other unsuccessful procedures. “I went to traditional healers but nothing has helped me,” he explains, “I have hearing problems and my right ear pains as well.” Bohle his hopeful that Professor Tshifularo’s process will change his life.
Now, Professor Tshifularo and his team now plan to make the operation a common procedure available through state healthcare.
The middle ear is the part of the ear between the eardrum and the oval window. The middle ear transmits sound from… the outer ear to the inner ear. The middle ear consists of three bones: the hammer (malleus), the anvil (incus) and the stirrup (stapes), the oval window, the round window and the Eustrachian tube.
Hearing loss has long been accepted as part of the aging process. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately one third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. This new procedure offers hope for those suffering from hearing impairments.