The Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Gauteng, South Africa, has successfully performed the world’s first 3D-printed total middle-ear transplant on a patient born with an underdeveloped middle ear. The transplant was conducted by a team of specialists who replaced the hammer, anvil, stirrup and ossicles that make up the middle ear.

According to the Facebook page of the Gauteng Health Department, the 3D-printing technology is used to print these bones, and also to reconstruct the ossicles. The surgery has benefitted two patients already and can be done on children and adults.

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Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team that conducted the groundbreaking surgery Photo: Facebook/Mashudu Tshifularo

The pioneering surgical procedure was developed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo at the Faculty of Health in the University of Pretoria. The surgery could be the answer to conductive hearing loss, a middle-ear problem caused by congenital birth defects, infection, trauma or metabolic diseases. Gauteng’s MEC for Health, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, visited the Steve Biko Academic Hospital to give her best wishes to the team.

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The surgery aims to simplify the reconstruction of ossicles during middle-ear procedures. Professor Tshifularo said, “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.”

According to the South African Hearing Institute, hearing ability declines from age 30 or 40. By age 80, more than half of humans will suffer from significant hearing loss. Physical damage to the head or ears could also lead to hearing loss.