Meet Prof Mashudu Tshifularo, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at the Steve Biko Academic hospital who has just performed the world’s first middle ear transplant using 3D printed bones.
Pretoria, South Africa – Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team at the University of Pretoria performed the world’s first middle-ear surgery using 3D technology!
They effectively replaced the hammer, anvil, stirrup and the ossicles that make up the middle ear. The surgery, which can be performed on everyone including newborns, has benefitted two patients already. The 3D-printing technology is used to print these bones, and is also used in surgery to reconstruct the ossicles.
“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,” explains Prof Mashudu Tshifularo.
According to the South African Hearing Institute, our hearing ability naturally declines from age 30 or 40. In fact, by age 80, more than half of humans will suffer from significant hearing loss. While hearing loss is a natural part of ageing, it could also occur as a result of disease or infection. It may also be inherited or be the result of physical damage to the ears or head.
The surgery also aims to simplify the reconstruction of ossicles during middle ear procedures, such as ossiculoplasty and stapedectomy, in order to increase the chance of success with minimal intrusion trauma.
Prof Tshifularo is the Head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat studies, ENT) at the University of Pretoria (UP), and is widely recognised as one of the best ENT specialists in the country. His leadership has significantly contributed to the advancement and transformation of the Department.
Prof Tshifularo is originally from Venda in Limpopo and is also a pastor who runs his church.
“Since joining the Department, Prof Tshifularo has been the driving force behind many firsts at the University of Pretoria. In November 2008, for example, he performed a bloodless operation known as an endoscope-assisted tonsillectomy using a technique that he had developed himself. At the time it was believed to be the first operation of its kind in the world.
At around the same time, the Department initiated the Steve Biko Robert Kerr Cochlear Implants Project, a project that does cochlear implants on patients from poor communities, with Prof Tshifularo as the surgical team leader. This project has been a great success and has introduced many financially and socially disadvantaged hearing-impaired people to the world of sound.
As an extension of this project, Prof Tshifularo and his team are in the process of initiating an early childhood hearing rehabilitation and deafness foundation that will serve previously disadvantaged children in the country.”
Prof Tshifularo has also been at the forefront of transformation in South Africa’s medical profession. He was the first black ENT specialist and among the youngest in the country when he was appointed to the Medunsa Department of Otorhinolaryngology in 2001. As an academic professor at UP, he brought transformation to the postgraduate training of registrars and consultants by training black students and using black consultants – something that had not previously been done in the Department.
To date, he has been instrumental in the training of more black South African ENT specialists than any other institution in the country.
His dedication to the training of students from previously disadvantaged groups has led to many ‘firsts’ in the Department’s graduating classes. These include the first South African College of Medicine candidates, the first black male, the first Indian male, the first coloured female and the first black female graduates as Fellows of the College of Surgeons (FCS)/MMed specialists. April 2014 saw three black MMed specialists graduating from UP’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology – the first time this happened since the inception of the Department.
Prof Tshifularo says that he believes that ‘innovate or perish’ are words to live by when it comes to clinical procedures, teaching, research and medical devices. He feels that academic professors have a responsibility to come up with solutions that benefit the communities around them. His belief in this is evidenced by the fact that he has designed and patented several medical devices and procedures that are widely used in the field of ENT today.
“Our future is in innovation towards excellent, internationally recognised solutions. Our aims are to improve safety and efficiency and to reduce costs in our communities as the field of ENT progresses,” says Prof Tshifularo.
Watch the incredible video below: