Remedying hair loss is tricky. There are multiple underlying reasons for hair loss, including metabolic issues, stress, or thyroid problems. These might resolve over time, but the long‐term loss from alopecia areata and male or female pattern baldness is more permanent and requires intervention, which can be done in the form of hair transplants.
Propecia, the last drug approved to slow the rate of hair loss, and in some people regrow hair, came onto the market in 1997, nearly a quarter of a century ago. While progress in hair regrowth and transplantation might seem slow, moving into 2022 there are some new treatment possibilities and ongoing refinement of the latest techniques.
Hair transplant and regrowth is big business. A recent report found the industry should reach $27.9 billion in 2027, up from $6 billion in 2020, representing 24.5% compound annual growth rate during that span. It’s a significant portion of the global hair care business, which reaches nearly $100 billion a year in products, cuts, and related purchases. The size of the hair transplant industry underscores the importance of such procedures for people suffering from conditions that cause hair loss, and those who want a fix for pattern baldness.
In 2022 and the following years, we’re likely to see strides in treatments such as hair cloning and stem cell‐based hair growth. In Japan, researchers have found stem cells that might be able to produce regenerative hair growth. It used in‐vitro cultures to spot stem cells with certain antibodies and proteins that were responsible for hair regeneration. If approved (in a few years), this type of treatment would involve implanting cultured cells back into the patient’s head to prompt natural and sustainable hair growth.
Another scientific advancement is hair cloning is a process that’s in the early stages that proposes to regrow hair. Cloning researchers discovered completely bald heads still contain fragments of hair follicles. These follicles behave abnormally, which results in zero hair growth and baldness. With cloning, researchers can pull cells from healthy hair follicles and then culture them to create new cells. These are injected into the patient’s bald scalp, which then signals it to produce hair through the remaining follicles.
So, it’s not a problem of losing hair follicles, but an activation problem where certain cells aren’t telling follicles to produce hair, resulting in baldness. Early efforts were thwarted by irregular directional growth, a problem researchers might remedy by using 3D printed shafts to encourage proper growth direction. The massive monetary potential of such treatments means there’s resources and scientists who will continue to make strides and refine their techniques over the coming years.
Will Robots Perform all Transplants?
Approved in 2011, the ARTAS system offers patients an intriguing option for hair transplantation. It’s a robotic system that was built to reduce errors and improve the results of hair transplant techniques like FUE, which stands for Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). Despite the promise of an ARTAS system, it comes with serious limitations, especially when compared to the benefits of a FUE performed by skilled clinicians.
With ARTAS, a technician controls the robotic arm and can make the recipient sites and perform full extraction of grafts. It sounds appealing, but the robot follows an algorithm for site creation, so the result can appear unnatural and unrealistically even. When practitioners create sites by hand, they use randomized spacing to create a look that reflects natural variability that mirrors the pattern of a full head of non‐transplanted hair. With a FUE procedure performed by a leading operator like Solve Clinics, patients receive a natural look through a few outpatient procedures that feature minimal scarring and discomfort.
ARTAS is also limited because the system is only capable of extractions in a rectangular area on the middle of the back of the patient’s head, it’s not programmed to do the sides. Extractions completed by hand can spread throughout the donor area, ensuring its integrity, and improving the odds of a satisfactory procedure for patients with considerable hair loss.
And there’s cost, with ARTAS remaining more expensive. And while its capabilities will improve over time, in the foreseeable future, it’s still not the optimal route for most hair loss patients.
With all the dollars at stake and an increasing supply of willing patients, the hair transplant industry will continue to evolve and grow. There’s opportunity for firms to present various options for regrowing and transplanting hair throughout the coming years, with the potential for a “breakthrough” that will change the industry forever.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.