Gentlemen, You Can Thank This Robotic Arm for Your New Head of Hair

Conventional hair transplant treatments can last eight hours or more. That causes fatigue in even veteran surgeons, and you don't want a tired doctor plowing for follicles on the back of your head. Luckily, the new ARTAS system can do the heavy hair-pulling.

Modern surgical hair transplant techniques used to treat male pattern baldness, as opposed to using Rogaine and its ilk, physically replaces lost hair with a patient's own fuzz from donor areas on the back and/or sides of the scalp (no, your ass does not count as a donor area).

Hair follicles are "harvested" from the donor areas in one of two ways—follicular unit extraction (FUE) and strip harvesting. FUE uses a small, 1mm dermal punch to pluck small tufts of hairs directly from the scalp. Strip harvesting relies on cutting out a strip of scalp (ouch) and manually excising the follicles from the flesh using a microscope. These follicles are then carefully grafted onto the bald patch, known as the recipient area. The grafts will begin to grow on their own within three to four months and will normally continue to do so for the rest of the patient's life.

The ARTAS robotic harvester utilizes a computer-assisted image guidance system to increase the number and quality of usable hair follicles gathered from donor sites. Instead of plucking tufts of follicles out like conventional FUE techniques, the ARTAS can pull individual follicles. It's more precise and less invasive than what even sure-handed surgeons can accomplish.

To use the ARTAS, the patient first has his hair shaved to about 1mm in length. He then sits in the chair shown above with the ARTAS positioned above him. A physician then uses the robotic arm to make a series of small dermal punches to harvest the follicles—collecting up to 1,000 hairs an hour. These follicles are then manually transplanted into the recipient area. The entire process generally takes a single session lasting roughly eight hours, about the same amount of time as manually harvests but without the fatigue to the doctor.

The system does have its limitations, however. For one thing, it only works on men with straight brown or black hair. Blondes, redheads, and those with a nap are SOL.

The ARTAS recently passed FDA review. Currently only four units exist in the US—one in New York, one in Denver, and two in—surprise, surprise—Los Angeles. [CNET - All Things D - Restoration Robotics]

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