World’s First Middle Ear Transplant Conducted Using 3D Printed Parts

A team of surgeons from South Africa have recently performed the world’s first middle ear transplant using prostheses made of 3D printed titanium. Performed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and a team of surgeons at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in South Africa, the operation marks a milestone in the adoption of 3D printed devices in medical procedures.

These reconstructed bones of the ear were the hammer, anvil, and stirrup ossicles. They are the smallest bones in the body and function to transfer vibrations from the external environment to the internal ear.

“The operation went fantastically well and we are very excited,” stated Professor Tshifularo after the operation. Tshifularo is also Head of the Otorhinolaryngology Department at the University of Pretoria, an institute that affiliates with the hospital.

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The operation, which took about an hour and a half, has received applause from government officials as well. Gwen Ramokgopa of the Executive Council for Health stated, “We are here to congratulate Professor Tshifularo and the team…because they have been working on this for the past 10 years, you have tested it and now you are going to implement it.”

The First Patient

Having middle ear damage from traumatic car crash injury, the 40-ear-old Thabo Moshiliwa was the first patient to undergo this operation. Moshiliwa’s ear was first 3D scanned, and this data was used to generate middle ear implants that were tailored to his ear.

“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,” explained 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.”

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Titanium was deemed the appropriate implant material based on its high biocompatibility. The surgical team utilized an endoscope to perform the operation as well, minimizing the invasiveness of the procedure. The effect on the patient’s hearing takes place instantaneously, but it can take two weeks for this improvement to be noticed due to the bandages.

Going Forward

Tshifularo and his team have celebrated their first success in using 3D printed implants in the middle ear, and now plan to conduct a second operation. The 62-year-old Simon Bohale was born with an underdeveloped middle ear, and his condition has become amplified with his work as a welder. Bohale has had two corrective procedures to date, but neither have benefitted him.

“I went to traditional healers, but nothing has helped me,” he explained. “I have hearing problems and my right ear pains as well.”

Bohale and Tshifularo are hopeful that the 3D printed implants will finally deliver the desired results.

Aiming to make the procedure more available to patients residing in South Africa, and porentially elsewhere, Tshifularo is currently searching for funding and industrial sponsorships.

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Sources: 3D Printing Industry, Pretoria News, Face2Face Africa

Jack holds a biology degree from Penn State University, and has a keen interest in how new medical technologies are changing the future of healthcare. Reach out to Jack if you have a compelling story idea or with feedback about past articles.