Q: Why is using the robot to create recipient sites useful in a hair transplant?
A: The ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant system eliminates the inconsistencies inherent in creating large numbers of recipient sites by hand. The robot can create sites at a rate of up to 2,000 per hour. Although there is more set-up time compared to sites made manually, once the physician specifies the parameters such as punch depth, punch angle, and site direction, recipient site creation is precise and rapid.
One of the benefits of robotic site creation is that the distribution of grafts over a fixed area of the scalp can be exact. For example, if one wants to transplant 1,000 grafts evenly over 50cm2 of area, this can be done with great precision and with uniform site spacing. In addition, the physician can vary the densities in select regions of the scalp and the robot will adjust the densities in other areas so that the total number of sites remains the same.
Another benefit of the new technology is that the robot can be programmed to avoid existing hair and select which specific hair diameters to avoid. The robot is programmed to keep a specified distance from the existing hair to ensure that the resident follicles will not be damaged and that the distribution of new hair is even and natural. This computerized mechanism appears to be more accurate than what can be done by hand and, importantly, does not sacrifice speed in the process.
Q: How do recipient sites get made in Robotic FUE? And how does the robot know where to create the sites?
A: In performing recipient site creation, the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant system automates another part of the hair transplant process that is repetitive and prone to human error. In robotic site creation, the physician first designs the hair restoration and then specifies the angle of hair elevation, hair direction, site depth, average density, and total number of the recipient site incisions. The robot then creates the sites according to these specifications.
During site creation, the robot automatically uses its image-guided technology to avoid hairs of a certain diameter (specified by the doctor). The robot creates sites at a minimum distance from hairs of the specified diameter (the distance is also specified by the physician) and will do so randomly throughout the areas where the hair is finer or the scalp is bald. With this important feature, the new distribution of sites can be made to complement the distribution of existing hair. Observation of the ARTAS System suggests that it performs recipient site creation with greater precision and consistency than can be accomplished manually.
Q: What is the main difference between hair transplants using the robot versus other procedures?
A: There are two basic types of hair transplant procedures, Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT or strip surgery) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). In FUT, donor hair is harvested by removing a long thin strip from the back of the scalp. Individual follicular units are then obtained from this strip using stereo-microscopic dissection. In FUE, individual follicular units are harvested directly from the donor area using a sharp, round cutting instrument. The ARTAS Robotic System performs the follicular unit isolation step of an FUE procedure and can also create recipient sites according to specifications determined by the hair restoration surgeon. In performing each of these steps, the robot uses its image-guided technology to locate the next target and position the cutting instrument, and it does so with precision and speed that cannot be accomplished using manual FUE techniques or instruments.
Q: I have been reading about Robotic FUE and have seen some photos on your website of you operating the ARTAS robot using what looks like a remote control. What is that thing and how does it control the robot?
Dr. Bernstein Operating the ARTAS FUE Robot
A: The ARTAS robot uses a dual operating system when performing follicular unit extraction. One station consists of a desktop computer adjacent to the robot. This station is used to establish the basic parameters of the transplant such as the spacing of grafts, the angle and depth of the harvest, which size follicular units will be targeted, and a host of other important variables.
The hand-held pendant is used by the operator situated next to the patient. The remote has more limited options – the main ones being depth adjustment and to immediately suspend the action of the robot. Many of the parameters are determined automatically by the robot’s computer to maximize the accuracy of the harvesting. The robot also makes real-time adjustments to these variables during the hair restoration procedure.
The physician sets the parameters at the computer monitor and, once the settings are determined, he/she sets the tensioner grid on the patient’s scalp. The tensioner determines where the grafts will be harvested. The grid is moved approximately every 130 harvests. The robot can be operated at the computer terminal and through a mobile pendant. The physician often alternates with a trained assistant between that station and using the pendant.
Besides the involvement in the operation of the robot, there are many other important physician-dependent steps to the hair transplant including the planning and design of the procedure, and recipient site creation. Other steps, such as the microscopic sorting and trimming of harvested follicular unit grafts and graft placement, are often performed by trained staff, but require the physician’s close supervision.
Q: How does the ARTAS robot control the depth of the incision in Robotic FUE?
A: The ARTAS robotic system is equipped with advanced sensors that determine the precise depth of the sharp and blunt needles used both in the graft harvesting step and for recipient site creation. The robot automatically adjusts to the precise depth needed for the non-traumatic extraction of the grafts. The tip of the punching mechanism contains depth markings so that the physician can visually override the punch when he wants to fine-tune its action. While monitoring the procedure in real time, if it is observed that the punches are too superficial or too deep, punch depth can be modified using the robot’s computer system.
The physician can also use the ARTAS system to precisely control the depth of recipient sites. As with harvesting, the robot automatically adjusts the depth based on parameters set by the physician and the doctor can then make further adjustments, in real-time, during the procedure.
Q: Does Follicular Unit Extraction performed by a robot hurt more than regular FUE? — R.T., Greenwich, CT
A: As with manual FUE, robotic FUE hair transplantation is an outpatient procedure performed under long-acting local anesthesia – a combination of lidocaine and bupivacaine. After the initial injections, the patient does not experience any pain or discomfort.
Before starting local anesthesia, we give most patients oral valium and intra-muscular midazolam (a very fast acting sedative that is very relaxing). While some patients doze off at the beginning of the procedure, others prefer to watch TV, a film, or just chat.
Local anesthesia generally wears off after 4-5 hours, so for transplant sessions lasting longer than this, we will give more anesthesia before the first wears off. With Robotic FUE, there is no discomfort once the procedure is completed and the anesthesia wears off. This is in stark contrast to an FUT strip procedure which can be uncomfortable in the donor area for days to weeks.
Q: How many follicles can you transplant with robotic FUE compared to manual FUE?
A: We can extract the same number of follicles robotically as we can manually.
That said, the goal of any hair transplant procedure is not to transplant as many hair follicles as possible but rather to achieve the best possible cosmetic result given your degree of hair loss and the number of hair follicles available in your donor area.
While there is no difference between robotic and manual FUE in terms of the number of follicles that each procedure can extract, robotic FUE does have the following advantages over manual FUE:
During the follicular unit extraction (or harvesting) phase of a hair transplant, there is less chance of damaging follicular units using a robot vs. a hand held device (e.g., Neograft), because the robot is more accurate. This means more grafts survive after transplant.
Robotic graft harvesting times are shorter than manual, e.g., while on average if a physician could manually extract 200-300 grafts per hour, the same physician could robotically extract up to 500-1000 grafts per hour1. This means a shorter procedure time for the patient.
Q: I am 26 years old and have been suffering from hair loss for 8 years. I have been on Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil) during those years. Unfortunately my hair loss has continued to progress aggressively. I am of half African and Caucasian descent, and my hair is curly. I understand that there are certain limitations on having hair transplants before you are 35, however I do not mind having another transplant in a few years, if necessary.
A: Although it is possible to have a hair transplant to the crown using robotic FUE in African American patients, given your young age and that you state your hair loss is progressing aggressively while on Propecia and Minoxidil, it is likely not a good decision to have surgery at this time.
The reason is that as your hair loss surrounding the crown expands over time, it may look unnatural to have hair transplanted solely to the crown region.
At your age, it is best to take Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil), and if a transplant is indicated, to start at your frontal hairline and top of your scalp, the areas that will be most important cosmetically long-term.
Q: I’ve heard that your ARTAS hair transplant robot can now create the recipient site in a hair transplant procedure. Has it been done on humans or is it still in an experimental phase, and if so can you tell if it looks as natural as when the surgeon does it?
Q: I have read a bit about the ARTAS robot and how it uses an “image-guided” system, but what does that mean? And how is the robot’s imaging system different than a human surgeon viewing the grafts with the naked eye?
A: That is a great question and it gets to one of the key benefits of the robotic hair transplant system: its accuracy. When a surgeon is performing FUE using manual techniques, they must wear a headset that magnifies the scalp so they can see the follicular units more clearly than with the naked eye. The surgeon must visually and mentally process subtle nuances of the skin and follicular units for every one of the hundreds or thousands of units that are extracted. The ARTAS robot magnifies the surface of the skin in much the same way, but to a much greater extent. In addition, it is not subject to the limitations of the human eye, or human hand, and it is not subject to human error. The surgeon may not have exact hand-eye coordination. The surgeon may be concentrating on one aspect of the extraction, say following the angle of the hair, but might ignore another important aspect of the follicle, say its depth in the skin or its orientation. And, of course, the surgeon tires, both physically and mentally, from performing the hundreds or thousands of repetitive motions.
The robot’s image-guided system, on the other hand, does not experience these limitations. The robot magnifies the skin, detects each follicular unit and the nuances of the skin/hair characteristics, and then extracts that follicular unit with precision. When the imaging system detects changes to the skin, this new information is fed into the computer in real-time and the system adjusts automatically based on this feedback as it continues to harvest grafts. There is no distracting the robot, and the robot will not forget, or ignore, key variables in the extraction. The robot can extract thousands of follicular units without tiring from repetition or slowing down the extraction.
Based on my own practical experience using the robot, it is clear that the robot’s ability to estimate the position of the follicles under the skin and to extract it with precision is superior to manual techniques. Having used the ARTAS system for over three years, and having helped make improvements to the device since the first iteration, I have seen robotic technology substantially improve the outcome for my patients.
Video Display of the ARTAS Robot Image-Guided System
Disclaimer: The purpose of this website is to provide the public with general information on hair restoration and related medical topics. Information provided on this site should not be used for medical diagnosis and/or treatment.
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