High-Tech Hair Transplants Seek to Vanquish Baldness

Kent Hasen-logo-blueNo one really wants to go bald. More than $1 billion is spent every year in the U.S. on hair restoration surgery — and that amount doesn’t even include the money spent on anti-balding drugs, such as Rogaine® or PROPECIA®.

The desire to reverse hair loss – which is really a cosmetic concern in the vast majority of cases – also helps explain why researchers put so much behind it. Millions of dollars go toward developing advanced hair loss treatments or even a cure for baldness.

As it turns out, the creation of a hair follicle at the beginning of each growth phase presents unique opportunities for applying advanced molecular biology medical techniques, such as cloning and gene therapy. In fact, cloning and gene therapy are the future of hair restoration treatments.

The operative word is “future”: They aren’t ready for primetime yet. Instead, the most recent advances in hair transplant surgery focus on applying technology to existing procedures. The days of hair plugs and snake oil-esque creams that promised hair growth are over. And so, for the most part, is the sense of skepticism that once surrounded the hair restoration field. Science has ushered in a new outlook on hair loss by reversing it without painful surgery or obvious scars.

One of those methods, introduced a little more than 5 years ago, is NeoGraft®, an automated system that extracts 3 to 4 follicles at a time with no visible scar or lines at the donor site. Essentially, the procedure uses a small circular punch with suction to remove individual hair follicles – a technique called follicular unit extraction (FUE). A physician then meticulously transplants the micrografts into the balding areas.

Man in mirror iStock_000024492416_FullDr. Kent V. Hasen, a board-certified plastic surgeon and one of the leading hair transplant specialists near Fort Myers, uses the NeoGraft system at his practice. “The NeoGraft system automates the FUE process, using pneumatic pressure to extract the individual hair follicles,” he says. “NeoGraft improves efficiency, comfort, and viability of the follicles. After FUE with the NeoGraft system, the hair follicles are transplanted into the recipient site using FUT [follicular unit transplantation] to ensure natural results and excellent graft-take.”

What’s next for hair restoration? It may very well be robots. The ARTAS® robotic hair transplant system, introduced a few years ago, gives the physician more dexterity and versatility during a procedure, with video imaging, motion tracking, and 3D image-guided programs to extract follicular units.

The ARTAS system can’t be used on all hair types, though, and some physicians combine NeoGraft with the robotic system. Patients appear to be very satisfied with the results, too. On RealSelf, an online forum that connects people interested in cosmetic procedures with board-certified specialists, both NeoGraft and ARTAS have “worth it” ratings of 96%, based on user reviews. The average price of hair restoration surgery using the ARTAS system is slightly more than $12,000. NeoGraft comes in at an average of about $9,000.

For now, NeoGraft and ARTAS are the newest options available to hair transplant patients. But Dr. George Cotsarelis, the director of the Hair and Scalp Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says more advances are on the horizon. “In the last 5 to 7 years, there has been a boom in the understanding of hair loss,” Dr. Cotsarelis tells WebMD. “We’ve made great strides at the level of basic research. Now the question is how we can convert these findings into clinical benefits. Those kinds of leaps really take decades.”

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