It is estimated that over 5% of the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). Approximately one third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss. (Source: WHO) Hearing aids have improved over the past twenty years, but in terms of a full cure, well that is something still quite out of reach, or at least until recently.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo from South Africa and his team at the University of Pretoria performed the world’s first middle-ear surgery using 3D technology!

In the operation they managed to replace the hammer, anvil, stirrup and the ossicles that make up the structure of the middle ear. The surgery, which can be performed on everyone including new born babies, has already fully cured two people. The 3D-printing technology is used to print required bones, and is also used in surgery to reconstruct the ossicles.

Prof. Doctor Mashudu 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.”

Photo Credit: University Of Pretoria

In the future these surgeries will also help simplify the reconstruction of ossicles during middle ear operations, such as stapedectomy and ossiculoplasty, overall increasing the success rate with minimal intrusion trauma.

A revolutionary surgery such as this one, however, needs funding and sponsors.

The Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has asked all donors and the medical community to support this breakthrough.

“As the Department of Health, we shall do everything in our power to assist and mobilise resources to make sure that Professor Tshifularo gets all the help he needs for this far reaching innovation”,  said the minister.

We have just witnessed History – Science and Technology work with each another, propelling both forward. What we learn from science allows us to build new technologies, which often allow us to cure illnesses or disorders once we thought impossible.

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