Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has paid tribute to Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at the University of Pretoria (UP) for a pioneering surgical procedure which uses 3D-printed middle ear bones for conductive hearing loss rehabilitation.
Tshifularo on Wednesday led the team in successfully performing a nearly two-hour transplant surgery on their first patient, Thabo Moshiliwa, aged 40, who damaged his middle ear bone in a car accident.
The minister urged donors and development partners, especially the business community, to support the innovation which he described as "South Africa's scientific break through".
"As the department of health, we shall do everything in our power to assist and mobilize resources to make sure that Prof. Tshifularo gets all the help he needs," Motsoaledi said.
The groundbreaking surgery was done at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria.
The department of health said the procedure, which can also be performed on newborns, may be the answer to conductive hearing loss, a middle ear problem caused by congenital birth defects, infection, trauma or metabolic diseases.
It uses 3D-printing technology to effectively replace the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, the ossicles - smallest bones in the body - that make up the middle ear.
Tshifularo, who is head of the department of Otorhinolaryngology at UP, said this innovation poses less risk than others.
“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.
"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.”
“3D technology is allowing us to do things we never thought we could. But I need sponsors and funding for this invention to take off the ground," he added.
The South African Hearing Institute says hearing ability naturally declines from age 30 or 40. By age 80, more than half of humans will suffer from significant hearing loss. While it is a natural part of ageing, it can also occur as a result of disease or infection.
- African News Agency (ANA)