The Evolution Of Hair Transplants
If you are suffering from hair loss, then hair transplantation is probably the best solution for your problem.
There have been a lot of different variations on this procedure over the past 100 or so years.
The earliest hair transplant dates back to the 19th century and was successfully completed by Menahem Hodara in 1897. To treat a superficial dermatophyte infection called Favus, Menahem implanted hair taken from the areas of the scalp that weren’t affected and implanted them into the unaffected areas of the scalp using both scalp flaps with a band of tissue attached to the original blood supply. This was a very painful procedure for the patient.
We started to see the dawn of the modern hair transplant techniques in Japan in the 1930s. Surgeons would use small hair grafts and even “follicular unit grafts” to replace eyebrows. The procedure still wasn’t at a point where they could treat balding of the head though.
World War II put a bit of a damper on things for a couple of decades. We didn’t see any of the advances made by the Japanese until the 1950s when New York dermatologist Norman Orentreich started to experiment with donor hair grafts to transplant to balding areas on men with male pattern baldness. He demonstrated the fact that these hair grafts were “donor dominant”, and as new hairs grew, they would last the same as if they were in their original place.
Dr. Walter P. Unger advanced this theory of donor dominance even further by defining the parameters of a “safe donor zone” where the permanent hair follicles could be harvested for hair transplant. This was the breakthrough for how we still harvest hair follicles to this day, whether by the strip method or FUE.
Over the next 20 years or so, we saw the many attempts at transplanting smaller grafts with minimal success. We saw the use of 2- to 4-mm “plugs” that would eventually give the appearance of a doll’s head, and as the hair around those plugs would thin or bald, it was very apparent that this procedure had been used.
In the late 80s, we saw the “strip” method start to replace “plugs”. B.L. Limmer introduced the use of the stereo-microscope that would allow for the dissection of a single donor strip to be cut up into small micrografts.
This follicular unit hair transplant procedure has continued to evolve a lot to this day. It has become what we are now using today with the NeoGraft FUE hair transplant technique: a minimally invasive, single-follicle extraction procedure that leaves no scars and has little to no downtime.
But as technology continues to evolve and as we learn and grow in this industry, it is only a matter of time before all that we will need to do is extract a single follicle from the donor area and use it to “clone” as many follicles as needed.
There are numerous companies that are trying to get to the finish line first with the latest breakthrough on what is an $800 million-per-year industry. Some are taking hair follicles and growing them with dermal papilla cells. Another gene called “Sonic Hedgehog” is being used by a company called Curis that could potentially convert resting hair into growing hair.
The truth is that in 5 to 10 years, things will be different and better for hair transplantation. But for now we still have a great way to treat thinning and balding hair.