3D printing has been used in a groundbreaking middle-ear transplant operation to save a man’s hearing, right here in South Africa.
The technology was used to recreate damaged middle-ear bones for a patient who suffered ear damage in a road accident.
This “first-ever middle-ear transplant” was performed at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane last week, saving 40-year-old Thabo Moshiliwa’s hearing from disappearing entirely.
“The man was involved in a motor vehicle accident and damaged all the bones in the middle ear,” says the lead surgeon on the operation, Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, who is from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health.
Professor Tshifularo and his team 3D-printed a hammer, anvil, and stirrup (the ear’s “ossicles”) for Moshiliwa out of bio-compatible titanium. Thanks to the operation, Thabo will fully hear again.
Tshifularo heads up the Department of Otorhinolaryngology – ear, nose and throat studies – at the university.
“By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedures,” he said.
The two-hour operation was performed in mid-March; according to the team, the technique they have pioneered can be used on anyone who has suffered hearing loss as a result of middle ear bone damage.
3D Printing is the Answer
Professor Tshifularo said he’d been looking for a way to create this sort of prosthesis, and the rise of 3D printing and its ability to create objects of any design out of a wide range of materials presented him with a solution.
He told radio station Cape Talk’s Pippa Hudson that “Two years ago, I started to see that 3D printing is the way to go. I met with some of my collaborators who agreed we can do this thing. Then the idea became real.”
Bring it on
3D printing is a fascinating technology that continues to find application in a large number of industries. Even more fascinating is the ability to impact the lives of ordinary South Africans.
At Tarsus Technology Group, we suspect what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning of a much larger revolution that will change life as we know it.
Bring it on, we say.