Surgeons in South Africa complete first 3D printing-based ear operation

Surgeons in South Africa complete first 3D printing-based ear operation

In a recent game-changing operation in healthcare and the 3D printing industry, a team of surgeons in South Africa has completed a successful middle ear transplant using titanium. Surgeons at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa reconstructed the hammer, anvil and stirrup ossicles for a patient from 3D printed titanium.

The team is now waiting on the full recovery of the patient which they expect soon. The team has been congratulated by health officials and commentators worldwide and the operation, which has been planned for a decade, is predicted to pave the way for similar op’s internationally.

Improvement of quality of life


steve biko academic hospital


The patient, Thabo Moshiliwa, had middle ear damage prior to the operation resulting from a serious injury. Before surgery could commence, Thabo’s ear was 3D scanned and the ossiscle implants were then designed to replace the sections of ear that he had lost.

The difficulty in such a process comes with ensuring the ossicles created from titanium are the exact same size as those lost by the patient. Titanium is selected due to its malleability and high biocompatibility rate. The material has to be compatible with the human body or the reconstructed ear will not function correctly.  The team also uses an endoscope to carry out the procedure, as this ensures the entire operation is as minimally invasive as possible.

Instantaneous success

Following this kind of procedure, the results are almost instantaneous. Hearing is immediately greatly improved, but due to the bandages on Thabo’s ear, it will take a few weeks for hearing to fully return.

After declaring this operation a success, the team immediately began plans for a second operation on a 62-year-old man from the same area. Simon Bohale, a welder who has lost the hearing in an ear due to genetic deformity and his job, has already been through multiple failed operations and is now hoping for a success. He has pain in his middle ear also, so the operation is very important to him.

The development of 3D printing in healthcare


3D printing in healthcare


3D printing is currently changing the face of the healthcare industry internationally. In the UK, for example, a 3D printed rib implant was successfully implanted. There have also been a number of devices designed for operations such as a Parkinson disease-focused implant which was shown on a televised documentary for the BBC. The industry was worth USD 16.82 billion in 2017 and it is anticipated to grow by more than 11.51% by 2025. The 3D printed devices offer a cost-effective technology. Currently available products include prostheses, dental implants, hearing aids, custom-made knee, and hip implants, and surgical instruments.