On Friday, 24 May 2019, the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship was honoured to have Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, the Head of the Ear Nose and Throat (Otorhinolaryngology) Department at the University of Pretoria, present on his ground-breaking surgery to transplant damaged middle ear organs with 3D printed organs.
He started his presentation speaking to the need within Otorhinolaryngology to develop a new and better technique in the repairing of middle ear. He noted the previous techniques did not improve hearing by more than 75% and were not sustainable, with many patients experiencing deterioration over time and requiring further surgery. He narrated his research journey over the last three years, in which he realised that a new and innovative solution was required to address the problem of inner ear damage.
When reflecting on his current innovation, Tshifularo asserted the procedure as a transplant as it involved the replacement and rebuilding of the ligaments, membranes and bones of the middle ear, not merely a prosthesis to support the existing structures as with the “stick and rod” technique. The definition of transplant includes the transplant of artificial material.
The aim of this procedure was not merely to replace body parts, but to ensure that the transplanted bones react appropriately to sound stimuli. The procedure described is undertaken through endoscopy, using the material titanium, which is the most compatible with the body and the 3D printed materials are measured for each individual patient to ensure permanent or long-term fit.
The first patients acquired immediate hearing. They are scheduled for regular check-ups to ensure continuing normal auditory function. Professor Tshifularo indicated that more patients are going through ethical and pre-trial clearance for further procedures that will take place in the near future.
Professor Tshifularo has had a brilliant career in medical innovation. Amongst others, he has developed a technique for bloodless tonsillectomy as well as a clinical grading scale of parotid gland enlargement. Referring to the transplant procedure, Professor Tshifularo spoke of the “stick and rod” solution that has been in place for correcting this damage to the middle ear, even though unsuccessful in permanent correcting the dysfunction. For Professor Tshifularo, the middle ear transplant must be understood within the context of the fourth industrial revolution within the broader discipline of medicine.
He also stressed the importance of examining the ethical dimension in these technological breakthroughs, and in this case how synthetic organs in the future can be used to unnatural prolong life, and to allow people with the access to wealth to abuse their bodies with the knowledge they can replace the parts of them that start to fail.