New, state-of-the-art robot developed to help solve hair loss
Are you bothered about your baldness? If you find yourself getting more and more ‘follically challenged’ as you grow older and are now concerned about hair loss, take heart.
First, you’re not alone. Second, there’s help out there for you.
About one in four men suffer from male pattern baldness (MPB) or androgenetic alopecia, and about three-fourths of them feel that this makes them less attractive than if they still had all of their hair. That’s about 35 million men in the United States alone, according to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.
All these men say balding causes them to suffer some psychological, professional and social problems. What’s more, by age 50, half of all men experience some degree of noticeable hair loss.
But the unlucky half, nowadays, aren’t really so unlucky after all.
First, there are prescription remedies like minoxidil [related: Is Minoxidil Effective?] and finasteride. And for those who demand nothing less than dramatic and permanent results, doctors can do a hair restoration surgery to move healthy, functioning hair follicles to the areas of a man’s scalp most affected by baldness.
This type of surgery — hair transplantation — has been popular for over 60 years, and in 2009, more than 100,000 American men chose to address their baldness with this procedure.
And now comes even more good news. For men concerned with balding, a new high-tech robot is helping to restore confidence — one precise hair follicle at a time.
The robot is called the Artas System and it’s from medical device manufacturer Restoration Robotics Inc. Approved last April by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (with a 510K clearance), it helps make hair restoration surgery more effective by helping with the follicular unit transplantation.
In this technique, the robot is in charge of removing follicular units — or groups of one to four hairs — from the back of the head and transplanting them to bald areas like the top and the front.
Removing those units has always been the toughest part of hair restoration surgery, but the state-of-the-art robot can do this with absolute precision. This is why even Dr. Robert Bernstein — credited widely for being the doctor who developed follicular unit extraction and transplantation — is now the first in the U.S. to use the device.
But what is it exactly?
Artas is a physician-controlled, interactive, computer-assisted system harvests hair follicles for hair restoration accurately and with ease. The system involves an image-guided robotic arm, special imaging technologies, small dermal punches, and a computer interface. Altogether, the system is capable of identifying and harvesting individual follicular units with precision.
Surgical hair restoration is the only technique that permanently corrects baldness, explains Dr. Mark McKenzie, member of the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons (IAHRS), in an article on the group’s website.
The IAHRS is the international group that sets the standards for hair transplant surgery, holds physicians accountable for their surgeries and acts as an advocate for patients.
But this type of surgery is done by extracting natural groupings of one to four hairs, called follicular units, from a site in the head of a balding man called the “donor site” — which is usually found in the back of the head — then moving it to the balding area called the “recipient area.”
Months after successful transplantation, the new implanted hairs develop their own blood supply and begin to grow. It takes about a full year before a change in the patient’s appearance is gradually noticeable.
Hair restoration is an office-based procedure. But because some 200 to 300 tufts are usually required, several grafting sessions are often needed.
Extracting follicular units demands precision — and this is where the Artas robot comes in. Because the robot is precise, grafting time is cut down, and can be done in only one session that takes only a few hours.
“A follicular unit is about a half a millimeter and you have a one millimeter circle that has to go dead center over it to punch this out. So when you’re doing it by eye and you’re doing thousands of them, over time you’re missing them. Over time, it’s not exactly precise. The robot is dead center each time and follows the angle of the hair,” explains Dr. Bernstein.
What your head of hair would eventually look like after a year’s growth isn’t up to the robot, though — that’s still up to the hair doctor’s expertise and artistic skill. But what the robot is responsible for is giving the doctor a better quality sample of hair with which to work.
“There’s always damage to the follicles when you’re doing it (extraction) because you’re doing it by hand through these very tiny incisions and so the yield is going to be less… with a robot if you try to get out 100 follicles you’ll get very close to 100 follicles,” says Dr. Bernstein.
But Artas just makes the incision. It’s the doctor who pulls out the hair, chooses where to put the transplants, and makes the actual transplants.
The only limitation is that Artas can only be used to harvest hair follicles from the scalp in men with black or brown straight hair. That’s at least, for now. Restoration Robotics, the developers of the robot says it’s working on future versions that can harvest hair follicles of all types of hair. The medical device company is also developing a robot that can help in the entire hair restoration surgery.
Apart from precision, the new hair-follicle-harvesting robot allows men who undergo hair restoration surgery to heal faster because it’s less invasive — unlike traditional techniques, it doesn’t require doctors to make tiny incisions to pull out hair follicles.
“Many patients are seeking less invasive alternatives to the current hair restoration techniques,” says Dr. Miguel Canales, Restoration Robotics Medical Director.
“There’s growing interest in FUE because of its many patient benefits, such as less discomfort and a quicker return to normal activities,” claims Restoration Robotics CEO Jim McCollum.
Restoration Robotics, Inc., a privately held medical device company, in a press release, says it’s dedicated to revolutionizing the field of hair transplantation.
First developed way back in the 1950s, hair transplantation doesn’t result in anything that closely resembles a full head of natural hair. But many men still consider the result a distinct cosmetic improvement.
Apart from being a natural offshoot of aging, baldness is brought by hereditary factors like diseases (that affect the whole body), scalp disorders, ionizing radiation and reaction to drugs.
An alternative to transplanting hair is the application of solutions containing the drug minoxidil. Some brand names are Rogaine or Regaine, Vanarex, Mintop and Loniten (oral), and Avacor Physician’s
However, minoxidil must be applied daily over a period of months in order to regrow hair or prevent further baldness.
Another possible solution is the drug finasteride, marketed under the brand names Proscar and Propecia. Taken every day, it is around 85 percent effective in stopping or significantly slowing hair loss, especially in the crown.
In some cases, the drug stimulates hair regrowth, but one to two percent of men who take this drug will suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Finasteride can also induce severe allergic reactions. Other serious side effects include chest pain, dizziness, fainting, fast heartbeat, sudden, unexplained weight gain and swollen hands or feet.