Tshifularo follows God's blueprint as he puts SA on map of innovators
So passionate is Prof Mashudu Tshifularo about innovation, he believes the world should invest in medical innovation for a healthier future.
Tshifularo recently became the first person in the world to transplant a 3D-printed bone into the middle ear of a patient with hearing loss.
But, he is expecting criticism from his academic colleagues.
"Let them come. No one has been doing it. This is unique," says he man who became a professor at the former Medunsa University at 35.
Last week, Tshifularo, 55, and his team from the University of Pretoria, performed the world's first 3D middle ear transplant on Thabo Moshiliwa, 40, at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane.
Moshiliwa had been in a car accident that completely shattered his middle ear.
The operation lasted nearly two hours.
Tshifularo believes the procedure is only the tip of the iceberg for medical innovation in SA.
"It's either we innovate or we perish. Technology is advancing and medicine must follow suit. We can come up with more innovations. We don't have to keep repeating what's been done all over the world," he says.
Tshifularo says it took nearly two years of research to come up with an efficient way of reconstructing the middle ear.
The rod-like sticks traditionally used in place of ear bones were "very inappropriate" he says.
"In the process of doing my PhD, I realised the prosthesis we are using to replace broken bone ... is very inappropriate. It has not given us a good sound outcome," he says.
Replacement hip bones looked like real hip bones, he says he noticed.
"When I started medicine, the hip replacement we used to use was nails and screws. Can you go to any doctors and use nails and screws now [for a hip replacement]?"
Tshifularo decided that if there were realistic hip and knee implants, why not middle ear bones?
"This is what I want to change for ear, nose and throat specialists; to change from [using] rods to normal [titanium] bones. I worked in the laboratory for many hours and had sleepless nights," he says, recalling his mission to find this more "appropriate" solution.
The outcome was a procedure that uses 3D technology to replace damaged anvil, ossicles and the stirrup - the smallest bones in the human body.
He say he believed patients would hear better if given more realistic transplants.
But he didn't want to delay the procedure until years-long clinical trials were conducted, especially since local scientific and research foundations rejected his funding requests.
"I am an academic ... if we delay and delay, someone else is going to pioneer it. I wanted to be the pioneer, to be first."
The operation, which has been hailed as a game changer in treating hearing loss, can also be performed on babies.
Aside from his medical work, Tshifularo, who was born and raised in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, is also a man of faith and runs the Christ Revealed Fellowship Church in Pretoria.
He says his work as a faith leader complements his role as a medical doctor.
"I'm following God's blueprint. God created the ear and I'm just trying to understand it," he says.
Tshifularo says he knew since he was in Grade 6 that he wanted to become a medical doctor.
"I found my purpose at the age of 13. I've always wanted to help people," he says.
He says he grew up in a family of six siblings - all of whom are well educated.
"We looked after cattle and goats. My mother was a housewife but she loved education and insisted that all of us go to school.
"My father was a railway worker and he also believed in education," he says.
So all the Tshifularo children heeded their parents' advice to get educated and strive for excellence.
Two of Tshifularo's siblings are science teachers and another is a medical doctor. The first-born child holds a PhD in psychology, while the last born is a chartered accountant.
After completing his grade 12 in 1982, Tshifularo studied pre-medicine at the University of Venda and then went on to study further at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Tshifularo, who is an ear, nose and throat specialist, has also written six lifestyle and Christian books.
He admits getting his foot in the door as a black medical professional was difficult in the past.
"When I started, there were few blacks and doors were closed. Because of this, I decided to build a legacy.
"This groundbreaking operation is not for me. It's for the black child. People must look at us and know that we can do it," he says.
Tshifularo says that the world should expect more medical innovations to come from him within the coming few months.
"Just watch the space. The innovations are already stored and patented. I will release them soon," he says.
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