SA surgeons succeed with “world-first” ear transplant

The procedure, performed by a team at the University of Pretoria, facilitates an ear transplant with the use of 3D printers and biocompatible titanium.

Hear, hear! A team of South African medical professionals have completed the world’s first ever “middle ear transplant” in Pretoria. The surgery – led by University of Pretoria (UP) Professor Mashudu Tshifularo – has successfully restored hearing capabilities for two patients.

NRF South Africa@NRF_News

Prof Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at @UPTuks have pioneered the world’s first middle ear transplant using 3D-printed bones. The surgery, which can be performed on everyone including newborns, has benefitted two patients already. http://bit.ly/2F5IyWC  #SAsciencehero pic.twitter.com/ykYIk2XUN81279:05 AM – Mar 12, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy93 people are talking about this

On the receiving end

Thabo Moshiliwa and Simon Bohale were the first lucky recipients of the procedure, according to The Citizen. There is no age limit on who can receive this surgery, and it has all been made possible thanks to 3D printers.

Thabo was born with an undeveloped middle-ear, whereas Simon has gradually lost his hearing over the years. The 62-year-old attributes his work in welding to the auditory issues he’s been blighted with.

3D Printers and titanium – how th middle ear transplant works:

Don’t say we aren’t living in the future: We’ve now got surgeons who can print you off a new ear. Okay, that’s putting it glibly – here’s how the procedure works, step-by-step:

  • Carefully map the bone structure of a patient’s ear.
  • Run these designs through a 3D printer, which will recreate the structure by compacting thin layers of plastic on top of each other.
  • Use the design to replace the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, the ossicles that make up the middle ear.
  • This helps recreate the damages “ossicles” – another term for the small bones in a patient’s ear.
ALSO READ  Man Hijacked by Gunpoint in Welkom


Mashudu Tshifularo detailed the procedure even further this week, revealing that biocompatible titanium is also used in the designs which effectively “rebuild” the middle ear. This process is the first of its kind in the world, but the professor has revealed his department needs more funding for this surgery to “take off”:

“3D Technology is allowing us to do things we never thought we could. 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. But I need sponsors and funding for this invention to take off the ground.” Mashudu Tshifularo

Medical breakthroughs in South Africa

This middle ear transplant is innovative, groundbreaking and indeed pioneering. But the Pretoria team’s method also has a major advantage over other surgeries of its kind. The procedure reduces the risk of facial nerve paralysis. During the delicate operation, some nerves can be permanently damaged as part of the reconstruction.

This trailblazing surgery is the latest in a series of medical breakthroughs that have been fostered in Mzansi. At the end of last year, we saw a radical new approach to treating amputees, through the process of “osseointegration”. The procedure was performed in South Africa for the first time in November and produced some brilliant results.

Circle City Correspondent FJ