Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - ARTAS Hair Transplant
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First Master Class in Robotic Hair RestorationFirst Master Class in Robotic Hair Restoration

May 11th, 2018 – Robert M. Bernstein MD, a pioneer in modern hair transplantation, led five robotic hair restoration physicians in an intensive master class focusing on ARTAS robotic techniques, surgical planning and aesthetics. The day included a live ARTAS Robotic FUE procedure, a series of twelve presentations and a Q & A period. The ARTAS Hair Transplant System, developed by Restoration Robotics, is the only robotic system in the world designed to aid surgeons in hair restoration procedures.

Dr. Bernstein was chosen to teach the first ever Master Class on Robotic Hair Transplantation because of his innovative work in the field of hair restoration and his contributions in the development of the ARTAS Robotic System. Dr. Bernstein is a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and founder of Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration, a state-of-the-art hair transplant facility in NYC and a beta-test center for Restoration Robotics.

Topics covered by Dr. Bernstein in the Master Class included technical aspects of robotic surgery, challenges of donor and recipient planning, hairline design, and when best to use Follicular Unit Excision (FUE). In his live demonstration and hands-on training, Dr. Bernstein also covered the techniques of Follicular Unit Graft selection and Long Hair R-FUE.

Dr. Bernstein presenting at the ARTAS Master Class.Dr. Bernstein presenting at the ARTAS Master Class.

Dr. Bernstein published “Follicular Unit Transplantation” in 1995 which now serves as the groundwork for modern hair restoration. Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) is the technique where the donor hair is removed from the scalp in one long thin strip and dissected into individual follicular units. Dr. Bernstein pioneered Follicular Unit Excision (FUE) in 2002, with his colleague Dr. William Rassman. Follicular Unit Excision (FUE) is the process of using an instrument to make a small incision around the skin of a follicular unit to separate it from the existing tissue. In 2011, Dr. Bernstein worked with researchers from Restoration Robotics to improve the newly released ARTAS Robotic System. Bernstein Medical was one of the first facilities in the world to use the ARTAS Robot to perform FUE hair transplantation.

In the first-ever master class, Dr. Bernstein shared his deep knowledge of hair transplantation and his experience using the ARTAS Robot with fellow hair transplant surgeons who traveled across the country for this opportunity.

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Dr. Bernstein Presenting at ARTAS Users Meeting 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada Dr. Bernstein Presenting at ARTAS Users Meeting 2018 in Las Vegas, NV

Earlier this month, Bernstein Medical physician Dr. Robert M. Bernstein presented at the annual ARTAS Users Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada discussing the newest hair restoration techniques and the upgrade of the ARTAS 9x. Over 200 medical professionals met to share their knowledge of and experience with the ARTAS Robot for hair restoration.

Dr. Bernstein Presents Advances of the ARTAS 9x Robotic Hair Transplant System

On March 9th, 2018 at the 2018 ARTAS Users Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University and founder of Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration, presented the latest in Robotic Hair Transplantation using the ARTAS® Robot. Dr. Bernstein described the benefits of the new technology, such as decreased time and increased accuracy of the robotic procedure.

Dr. Bernstein worked with ARTAS engineers in the development of these new advances and tested them in our New York facility. These updates make Robotic FUE a faster and more efficient procedure.

Dr. Bernstein Presenting Long-Hair Robotic FUE at ARTAS Users Meeting 2018 Dr. Bernstein Presenting Long-Hair Robotic FUE at ARTAS Users Meeting 2018

The ARTAS 9x includes software and hardware updates such as white LED lights that are easier on the users’ eyes, a base extender, smaller size needle options, a more ergonomic headrest, automated scar detection, faster harvesting, and streamlined ARTAS Hair Studio software.

One important upgrade of the ARTAS 9x is the use of white LED light and yellow colored tensioner. This allows technicians to extract the grafts while the system is still harvesting the hairs — without causing eye fatigue. This advance alone can significantly reduce operating time. The base extender and the smaller robotic head of the ARTAS 9x allows for a longer reach so less repositioning of the patient is needed.

The ARTAS 9x also has artificial intelligence that detects and blocks out existing scarred portions of the donor area from being harvested. The streamlined ARTAS Hair Studio of the ARTAS 9x only requires one picture to create a 3D image of the patient’s scalp, while the previous version needed multiple.

Long-Hair Robotic FUE

Dr. Bernstein discussed Long-Hair Robotic FUE and its immediate cosmetic benefit to the patient. Traditional FUE procedures require the hair in the entire donor area to be clipped close to the scalp leaving a wide band of the harvested area visible. In Long-Hair FUE, the patient grows his hair longer on the back and sides of the scalp which can then be used to cover the harvested area. Dr. Bernstein explained that before the procedure the surgeon lifts the hair up and clips a long thin band of donor hair and then extracts the follicular units from this part of the donor area. After the procedure, the patient can comb his hair down to cover this harvested area. He explained how this can be done through one long band or, when more grafts are needed, two parallel bands in order to harvest the maximum number of grafts.

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Robert M. Bernstein, MD, New York, NY, [email protected]

The goals of most improvements in hair transplant techniques over the past 50 years have been to make donor harvesting less invasive, to increase accuracy for optimized growth, to generate grafts in a size that mimics nature, and to create recipient sites that result in natural hairlines that are aesthetically pleasing, but undetectable as a restoration.

One of the self-limiting factors in hair restoration, particularly follicular unit extraction (FUE), is that it has traditionally been subject to error caused by fatigue and other limitations of the human operator. This is a fundamental reason why the introduction of robotic technology for performing critical aspects of the FUE procedure has been such a game changer. In the hands of an experienced hair surgeon, the ARTAS™ Robotic Hair Transplant System is a powerful tool for creating natural and reproducible outcomes.

With the latest version of the platform, the recently released 9x upgrade, Restoration Robotics™ has engineered a faster and more accurate system for hair restoration. The improved accuracy of harvesting and shortened procedure increase graft viability. The smaller needles reduce scarring for a faster return to normal activity while allowing patients to wear shorter hairstyles.

Brief History of Hair Transplant Techniques

Norman Orentreich is widely credited with introducing the concept of “donor dominance” in the 1950s—the idea that transplanted hair continues to display the same characteristics of the hair from where it was taken. ((Orentreich N: Autografts in alopecias and other selected dermatological conditions. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 83:463-479, 1959.)) This means that continued growth at the recipient site is predicated on harvesting viable hairs from the donor site. In other words, the genetics for hair loss reside in the follicle rather than in the skin. However, due to limitations in graft harvesting technology, cosmetic outcomes of early transplant procedures were often unsatisfactory.

The large scars associated with early “hair plug” techniques were largely eliminated by the introduction of mini-grafts in the 1970s. ((Rassman WR, Pomerantz, MA. The art and science of minigrafting. Int J Aesthet Rest Surg 1993;1:27-36.)) This was followed by micro-grafts of 1-2 hairs. Mini-micrografting could be repeated hundreds or even thousands of times to cover large areas of baldness—but early manual techniques for doing so often yielded inconsistent graft quality and still resulted in scarring on the patient’s scalp, albeit less noticeable than previously. ((Rassman WR, Carson S. Micrografting in extensive quantities; The ideal hair restoration procedure. Dermatol Surg 1995; 21:306-311.))

In follicular unit transplantation (FUT), introduced in 1995 by Bernstein and Rassman, individual follicular units were dissected from the donor strip and became the new building blocks of the hair transplant. ((Bernstein RM, Rassman WR, Szaniawski W, Halperin A. Follicular Transplantation. Intl J Aesthetic Restorative Surgery 1995; 3: 119-32.)) Importantly, proper execution of FUT required the use of a stereo-microscope, a technique that was pioneered by Dr. Limmer. ((Limmer BL. Elliptical donor stereoscopically assisted micrografting as an approach to further refinement in hair transplantation. Dermatol Surg 1994; 20:789-793.)) FUT/strip became popular because it produced completely natural results with minimal recipient site scarring and could be used to cover large areas of the scalp.

A limitation of FUT, however, was that patients often needed to wear longer hair styles to cover the linear scar in the donor area. Nevertheless, FUT improved graft viability, consistency, and naturalness compared to mini-micrografting, and it remains in use today as an option for patients who want to maximize hair yield and are not concerned about the linear scar.

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Woods began using a small punch-like instrument to create small, circular incisions in the skin around follicular units, separating them from the surrounding tissue. The follicular units are then pulled, or extracted, from the scalp, leaving tiny holes that heal in a few days. Dr. Woods was reluctant to share his techniques with the medical community; in 2002 Drs. Rassman and Bernstein, working with Columbia University, developed their own technique and published it in Dermatologic Surgery. The procedure then spread rapidly, and now over half of all hair transplant procedures performed today worldwide utilize FUE techniques. ((Rassman WR, Bernstein RM, McClellan R, Jones R, et al. Follicular Unit Extraction: Minimally invasive surgery for hair transplantation. Dermatol Surg 2002; 28(8): 720-7.))

A major advance to the FUE technique came with the two-step process devised by Dr. Harris. In his technique, a sharp punch was first used to score the surface of the skin and then a dull punch was used to dissect deeper into the tissue to avoid transection of follicles. This two-step technique was to become the basis for the future mechanism of robotic FUE. ((Harris JA. The SAFE System: New Instrumentation and Methodology to Improve Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). Hair Transplant Forum Intl. 2004; 14(5): 157, 163-4.))

FUE procedures allow recipients to wear shorter hairstyles due to the absence of a linear scar in the donor area, and they can typically return to physical activity sooner than after FUT. Yet, inherent difficulties in performing FUE, namely the requirement of keeping the follicular extraction instrument parallel and oriented along the axis of the follicle through the length of the graft, make it a technically challenging procedure. The introduction of the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System in 2011 changed that dynamic by offering precision, control, and repeatability in follicle harvesting. Because it manages the exacting and repetitive work of extracting hundreds to thousands of grafts in a single session, physician fatigue and error are minimized. The potential to transect or damage the hair is reduced, and graft viability is increased.

Generational Improvements in Robotic Hair Transplantation

The first iteration of the ARTAS robot helped deliver accuracy and reproducibility in the form of a physician-assisted, computerized device with a three-dimensional optical system to locate and harvest follicular units directly from the donor area. By 2013, robotic recipient site making was added to help make the sites more uniform in depth and distribution and to avoid existing, healthy hair. Upon the recommendation of Dr. Bernstein, the manufacturer added another important upgrade in 2016 with a graft selection algorithm to select follicular units for harvesting based on the number of hairs they contain, producing greater hair density while leaving fewer scars in the donor area. ((Bernstein RM, Wolfeld MB. Robotic follicular unit graft selection. Dermatologic Surgery 2016; 42(6): 710-14.))

Restoration Robotics recently released the 9x ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System, the latest generation of its platform. It is faster and more accurate than previous versions and has better functionality. It also has improved artificial intelligence (AI) that reduces the potential for over-harvesting and enhances capabilities in recipient site making.

The easiest feature to appreciate with the 9x is that its raw speed is approximately 20% faster than the 8x. This is achieved by faster alignment with follicles, without sacrificing any precision in the approach angle for harvesting. The 9x features a dissection cycle of less than 2 seconds, meaning it can safely harvest roughly 1,300 grafts per hour—while still analyzing the scalp in micron-level precision. As with previous ARTAS versions, the cutting action is a two-step process, with an inner needle engaging the hair while the blunt outer punch separates the follicular unit from the remaining tissue.

Faster overall dissection is achieved with the 9x because the robot moves from one to the next follicle unit by skimming over the surface of the scalp, rather than retracting away from it between harvests.

The increased precision of the ARTAS 9x allows for the use of smaller needles for harvesting in appropriate candidates. The initial ARTAS system could only be used with a needle/punch apparatus that cut 1.0mm on the surface. The next iteration used a needle and punch of 0.9mm at the surface. The 9x has a 0.8mm option to allow very short hairstyles, although care should be taken in patient selection as there is less tolerance with a smaller punch.

The optics of the 9x have been completely reconfigured to use white LED illumination versus red, which allows extraction while harvesting without eye fatigue. The 9x is also easier to operate with some key features: a 1” extension on the robotic arm for longer reach and less need to reposition the patient; a smaller robotic head to permit acute angles of approach for harvesting; additional site making options, such as the ability to change the orientation (i.e., from sagittal to coronal) in different zones on the scalp; and a harvesting halo that is faster to apply and more comfortable for the patient.

AI and the Future of Hair Restoration

One of the more impressive aspects of working with the ARTAS System in hair restoration procedures is its already powerful AI. This feature makes it possible to detect select follicle units for harvesting. It also gives the platform the capability to automatically adjust the angle of approach, thereby reducing the potential to transect the hair follicle during harvesting.

One of the major upgrades in the 9x is the addition of an “empty site warning” that signals the operator that the harvest is not precise, allowing for adjustments in real-time. This builds on the already intuitive and user-responsive interface to add further quality control. Automatic scar detection has also been added so that the robot will skip over low-density areas to have more uniform harvesting. This is particularly important to our practice where we specialize in repair and corrective procedures.

The ARTAS platform is integrated with ARTAS Hair Studio™, an app-based technology with which the surgeon can consult with the candidate to simulate the final outcome. The ARTAS Hair Studio is also used by the physician to design the pattern for recipient site creation. With the 9x, Hair Studio has been upgraded so that instead of stitching together multiple photos to create a three-dimensional representation of patient’s scalp, it does so in a single photograph, making it faster and more efficient.

What is fundamental to understand about the 9x upgrade is that many of the additions have been specifically engineered based on user feedback, my own included. Restoration Robotics continues to work closely with physician users to understand needs in the clinic to produce a platform for hair restoration that is responsive to needs of the end user and the end beneficiary (the patient). In my hands, the 9x takes and makes an already powerful tool for hair restoration even faster and more accurate.

The statements, views, opinions, and analysis concerning Restoration Robotics and its technology expressed in this article are solely mine and are not intended to reflect the statements, view, opinions, and analysis of Restoration Robotics.

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Robert M. Bernstein, MD, New York, NY, [email protected]; Michael B. Wolfeld, MD, New York, NY, [email protected]

Disclosure: Drs. Bernstein and Wolfeld hold equity interest in Restoration Robotics, Inc. Dr. Bernstein is on its medical advisory board.

Since the publication of “What’s New in Robotic Hair Transplantation” (Hair Transplant Forum Int’l. 2017; 27(3):100-101), there have been important improvements to the robotic system in both its incision and recipient site creation capabilities. These advances fall into four overlapping categories:increased speed, increased accuracy, increased functionality, and improved artificial intelligence (AI). The overlap occurs since improvements in functionality, accuracy, and AI can also increase the overall speed of the procedure. A faster procedure decreases the time grafts are outside the body and allows the physician to perform larger cases without placing additional oxidative stress on the follicles.

Increased Speed

The speed of the robot has increased through faster and more precise alignment with the hair in the follicular units.
The robot also saves a significant amount of time by staying closer to the scalp (approximately 2mm) while moving from unit to unit, rather than retracting after each harvest. By shortening the distance the robotic arm moves between incisions, the dissection cycle has decreased to less than 2 seconds, giving the robot a raw speed over 2,000 grafts per hour. In a clinical setting, this enables harvesting of up to 1,300 grafts per hour.

Although the obvious way to increase speed is to simply make the robot go faster, there are limitations to this, as it would decrease the ability of physicians to make real-time adjustments to the system. The robot has an automatic feedback loop that makes intra-operative modifications as the harvesting proceeds, and this significantly decreases the need for human intervention. However, when there is scarring or other situations of excessive patient variability, it is necessary for occasional “tweaking” (particularly of punch depth) to achieve an optimal outcome. In these situations, faster robot speed may be counterproductive.
With this in mind, new ways have been found to speed up the procedure without limiting the operator’s ability to respond. One has been to change the color of the light emitted by the optical system. In the past, a beam of red light illuminated the fiducials that the robot uses to guide the robotic arm, but the glare of this light is very difficult on the eyes.

Fig 1. Touchscreen user interfaceFIGURE 1. Yellow fiducials and white light guide incision.

By enabling the optical system to read “eye-friendly” white light, the surgical team is now able to remove grafts as soon as they are separated from the surrounding tissue, rather than having to wait for an entire grid to be finished.This allows the two steps in follicular unit excision—the graft separation from surrounding tissue (incision) and the actual removal (extraction)—to proceed in parallel, rather than in series, in order to decrease operating time.

The new optical system also enables the robot to recognize the tensioner from a distance. Previously, the physician had to manually bring the robot toward the scalp (a step called “forced drag”), until the robot was close enough to recognize the fiducials on a grey-colored tensioner. This now happens automatically, with the robot recognizing a yellow tensioner from a distance and then homing in on the fiducials as it moves closer to the scalp, eliminating the time needed for the extra step (Figure 1).

FIGURE 2. 3-D image for site creation using one photoFIGURE 2. 3-D image for site creation using one photo

Recipient site creation has been a significant new capability of the robotic system. The advantages of robotic site creation include the ability to avoid existing terminal hair (minimizing injury) and to create new recipient sites in a precise distribution that complements the existing hair. A limitation of this technology is that the physician needs to develop a 3-D computer-based model of each patient’s scalp to communicate the transplant design to the robot. The old model required the fusion of 5 two-dimensional images, a process that required a significant amount of time. The newest iteration can build a three-dimensional model using only one image, greatly decreasing the time needed for this important step (Figure 2).

Increased Accuracy

There has been a recent trend in FUE towards using smaller punches. Although these authors feel that in many cases the increased risk of transection from smaller diameter punches outweighs the benefit of reduced wounding and concomitant smaller scars, it is important that the robot has this capability for physicians who prefer these punches.

The sharp/blunt system in the original robot (released in 2011) used a 1.0mm sharp pronged needle that penetrated the skin about 1mm and was immediately followed by a rotating, dull punch with a slightly larger diameter that went deeper into the scalp. The current system includes a 0.9mm needle that is the workhorse for most cases. With refinements in the optical system, the needle/punch diameter was able to be reduced further. The new needle option is 0.8mm.

The needle has also been redesigned so that the physician can choose between 2 and 4 prongs, with the former being preferable in softer tissue and the latter in firmer skin or scarred scalp (Figures 3 through 6).

FIGURE 3. 1.0, 0.9 and 0.8mm needlesFIGURE 3. 1.0, 0.9 and 0.8mm needles
FIGURE 4. Recipient wounds: 0.8mm (left) and 0.9mm (right)FIGURE 4. Recipient wounds: 0.8mm (left) and 0.9mm (right)


FIGURE 5. 0.8mm needle: 1-, 2-, 3- , and 4-hair follicular unit graftsFIGURE 5. 0.8mm needle: 1-, 2-, 3- , and 4-hair follicular unit grafts
FIGURE 6. 0.9mm needle: 1-, 2-, 3- , and 4-hair follicular unit graftsFIGURE 6. 0.9mm needle: 1-, 2-, 3- , and 4-hair follicular unit grafts

Increased Functionality

In prior iterations, when the robotic arm was in a position that was too cramped and from which it could not automatically recover, the user needed to go through a six-step manual process using a stand-alone pendant to guide the robot to a neutral “safe” position.

FIGURE 7. Compact robotic head FIGURE 7. Compact robotic head

The Arm Brake Release is a new functionality that places a single button on the arm that, when pressed, quickly moves the arm away, allowing the operator to readjust the patient’s position.
Modifications of the robotic arm (which give it greater reach) and changes to the robotic head (which reduce its bulk) enable the robot to access a much greater area of the scalp without the need for repositioning the patient. This reduces a significant amount of procedural time as well. Another advantage of the smaller head is that the robotic arm can approach the patient at more acute angles without collision, adding more flexibility to both harvesting and site creation (harvesting to 35°, site making to 30°). The more acute angles required a redesign of the headrest so that the arm would have unimpeded access to the scalp (Figure 7).

FIGURE 8. Universal blade holderFIGURE 8. Universal blade holder

Prior iterations of the robotic system used hypodermic needles of varying sizes (18g-21g) for recipient site making. In response to the wide range of physician preferences, the robot now has a universal holder that can accommodate almost any type of site making tool. These include square-tipped blades, angled blades, and chisel and spear point blades, as well as the original hypodermic needles. These can be easily interchanged during the procedure (Figure 8).

Artificial intelligence

FIGURE 9. Automatic scar detection FIGURE 9. Automatic scar detection

An automatic collision recovery system will automatically retract the robotic arm if the arm approaches the patient at an angle that is too acute, or cramped to operate, or if any part of the robot (other than the operating tip) inadvertently touches the patient. Once retracted, the patient can be repositioned so that the FUE session can proceed.
One of the frustrations of FUE is the occasional empty site that represents either a graft that was pushed too deeply into the scalp or one that was completely removed. The new empty site warning icons complement physician observation by using color-coded symbols (green, yellow, and red) to alert the doctor to the occurrence of empty sites.
Finally, the ARTAS software can now automatically detect regions with low (or no) hair density and block those areas from being harvested. This capability decreases human error and saves time by automatically performing a function that prevents creating zones with very little or no hair coverage (Figure 9).

In sum, new improvements in the speed, functionality, accuracy, and artificial intelligence of the robotic system have significantly shortened the duration of the overall procedure. Besides being more convenient for patients and more expedient for the operating physician, the shortened operating time decreases the time grafts are outside the body, an important factor in ensuring optimal growth of the transplanted hair.

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Dr. Robert M. Bernstein were guest speakers in the ARTAS webcast series where they discussed “What’s New in Robotic FUE”. In this live webinar, conducted by Restoration Robotics, Dr. Bernstein spoke to over 100 fellow surgeons and their staff on advances in robotic hair transplantation and led a Q and A session about the ARTAS Robotic System following the presentation. The main topics of discussion were the four key areas of the Robotic FUE procedure that are improved by the ARTAS 9x; increased speed, accuracy, and functionality, and advances in the use of artificial intelligence.

To hear what Dr. Bernstein had to say, watch the archived video (registration required).

Increased Speed

The ARTAS 9x is 20% faster than the ARTAS 8x and has a dissection cycle of less than two seconds. This new upgrade also allows for graft dissection and extraction to be performed simultaneously, increasing the speed of the procedure. Prior versions of the ARTAS robot used a red LED light which was too harsh on the human eye. The ARTAS 9x has a white LED light that allows grafts to be removed from scalp at the same time that the robot proceeds with the excision of additional grafts. The newest version of the robot uses a yellow tensioner, rather than the previous white one, enabling the robotic optical system to identify the tensioner from a greater distance. This eliminates the two manual commands needed to put the arm into position and, thus, increases the speed of the procedure.

ARTAS 9x - White vs Red LED LightPrevious versions of the robot used a red LED light (left), ARTAS 9x uses a white light (right)

Increased Accuracy

The ARTAS 9x provides physicians the option of using smaller needles with the addition of a 0.8mm needle. The smaller needle reduces scarring and enables more precise graft extraction.

“Compared to other versions of the ARTAS Robot, there is a dramatically less need for the physician to make modifications to the ARTAS 9x system. It seemed like we were driving a stick shift car, where now much of it is automatic.”

– Dr. Bernstein

Increased Functionality

Physical improvements to the robot include a smaller robotic head, improved headrest, new harvesting halo, and a robotic arm extender. The new 9x has a smaller head that allows the robot to move around the patient to approach their scalp at a more acute angle. This allows the angle of site making to go down to 30 degrees and harvesting down to 35 degrees. The site making headrest of the 9x does not include the protruding edges found in the 8x. This gives clearance for the robot to have more site making options. The new harvesting halo also places less downward pressure on the patient’s head with tension being more lateral but just as effective in stabilizing the scalp for precise excision. The 9x has an extender that allows the arm to more easily reach around the sides of the patient’s head without having to reposition the patient.

Use of Artificial Intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the 9x Robot leads to greater consistency and speed. AI aspects found in the ARTAS 9x include automatic collision recovery, empty site warning, automatic scar detection and new ARTAS Hair Studio technology. The motion sensor is in the arm where it attaches to head and the screen shows the physician what is happening in real-time so the position of the robotic can be adjusted easily.

Dr. Bernstein said:

“The ARTAS 8x required 6 steps to accomplish this; the 9x has a one-touch system with one button that retracts the head back to the neutral position.”

ARTAS 9x - Improved Scar DetectionARTAS 9x detects and blocks harvesting from areas with scarring

The ARTAS has a new empty site warning capability that signals the physician to make adjustments when the harvesting is sub-optimal. The ARTAS 9x also has an automatic scar detection function that allows the robot to detect areas with low or no hair density so that these areas can be automatically blocked from further harvesting. This feature is particularly useful in cases where there is significant scarring from prior surgery. There have also been advances made to the ARTAS Hair Studio. In 9x, only one photo is needed to create a 3D image of the patient’s scalp as opposed to the prior iterations that required up to five.

It is important to keep in mind that these improvements work together to increase the overall speed, accuracy and efficiency of Robotic FUE procedures.

Bernstein Medical and the ARTAS Robot

In 2011, Bernstein Medical became one of the first practices in the world to use the computer-driven technology of the ARTAS Robotic System in FUE hair transplant procedures. They have played an important role in the development of the technology ever since. Bernstein Medical is a beta-testing site for new enhancements and features to the ARTAS robot and Dr. Bernstein is on the Medical Advisory Board to Restoration Robotics, the company that makes the ARTAS robot.

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Q: I thought that FUE extraction is performed in a way that it cannot be detected. Therefore, it is best to distribute the pattern evenly starting from the safe zone and fading out on the sides. The ARTAS results often show a smaller extraction area and harder edges (no transition from extraction to non-extraction area). Does this lead to a higher risk to detect the surgery? — H.K. ~ Chicago, I.L.

A: Feathering of the extraction zone in FUE is a technique where the distance between the extractions gradually increases as one reaches the border of the extracted zone. When this technique should be used depends upon the short- and long-term goals of the patient. If the patient’s main goal of the FUE procedure is to wear their hair very short, then the technique of feathering and rounding the edges to have a less distinct border is appropriate, as this will decrease the visibility of the harvested area.

However, if a person does not wear his hair very short (nor plans to) and maximizing the donor supply is paramount, then a more organized pattern, with less feathering, will give a greater long-term yield and a more even distribution. The reason is that the healing of FUE wounds distorts adjacent follicular units making subsequent extraction in the same regions more difficult and increases the risk of transection. For this reason, in subsequent procedures we generally prefer to harvest in new areas. If we need to harvest more hair from the same area, we rarely go back more than once.

When one feathers extensively in the donor area, this utilizes a larger surface area of the scalp with less graft yield, so it may become necessary to go back over the same area to obtain additional grafts, often multiple times. This risks increased transection and an uneven, mottled appearance to the donor area.

If a person wears his hair very short, then feathering is critical (even though it makes subsequent extraction more problematic). It is very easy to feather and round edges with the ARTAS robot, but we make the decision to do so based upon the specific needs and goals of the patient.

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Dr. Bernstein Presenting at ISHRS 2017Dr. Bernstein speaking at the ISHRS in Prague, Czech Republic

Dr. Bernstein gave a presentation on “What’s New in Robotic FUE” at the 25th Annual Conference of the International Society of Hair Restoration (ISHRS) on Friday, October 6, 2017, in Prague, Czech Republic. He discussed the exciting new capabilities of the most recent upgrade to the ARTAS Robotic System, ARTAS 9x. The upgrades increase the speed and accuracy of the procedure while utilizing artificial intelligence to fine-tune the movements of the robotic arm.

Increased Speed

ARTAS 9x is 20% faster than the prior version, with each dissection cycle lasting less than 2 seconds. The robot can now harvest up to 1,300 grafts per hour. ARTAS 9x makes robotic hair transplants faster by enabling graft dissection and extraction to be performed simultaneously. Prior versions of the robot’s optical system used a red LED light. However, this proved to be too harsh for the human eye. ARTAS 9x solves this issue by using a white LED light, allowing grafts to be extracted while the robot dissects grafts in the scalp. Also, ARTAS 9x uses a yellow tensioner, rather than a white one, eliminating the need for two manual commands and increasing the speed of the procedure.

Increased Accuracy

ARTAS 9x has increased the accuracy of the procedure by allowing the option of smaller needles (0.8mm in addition to 0.9mm and 1.0mm). The 0.8mm needle minimizes distortion of the skin during harvesting and this improves the accuracy of the graft extraction process.

Artificial Intelligence

The ARTAS 9x uses artificial intelligence to maximize consistency in Robotic FUE procedures. It uses real-time information on the positioning of the robot and the patient to direct the robotic arm to automatically retract — but not shut down — if it detects a potential positioning issue. This increases efficiency and decreases the length of the procedure.

Artificial intelligence is also used to determine if there are any empty recipient sites on the scalp during harvesting, meaning that a graft was missed. The robot alerts the physician to this information so he/she can then adjust the algorithm to increase the efficiency of the procedure.

The software system that runs ARTAS 9x can now detect scars or areas of the scalp with few or no hairs and skip over these areas during harvesting. This saves time by blocking harvesting in areas that might result in a harvested area appearing too thin.

Other Functionality Improvements

ISHRS 25th Annual Conference ProgramISHRS 25th Annual Conference Program

There are a number of other improvements to the robotic system incorporated into ARTAS 9x. These include a smaller robotic head, an improved site-making headrest, a new harvesting halo, a robotic arm extender, and more. These modifications increase the functionality of the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System and aid the physician to deliver optimal outcomes for the patient.

ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplants at Bernstein Medical

Bernstein Medical was one of the first hair restoration practices in the world to use the ARTAS robot to perform FUE, a procedure pioneered by Dr. Bernstein and his colleague Dr. William Rassman. In 2013, Bernstein Medical was named an ARTAS Clinical Center of Excellence.

As a medical adviser to Restoration Robotics, Dr. Bernstein works to improve its hardware and software systems in collaboration with the robot’s engineers and developers. Bernstein Medical is a beta-test site for the ARTAS robot with numerous advances being developed and tested in our NYC hair transplant facility.

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Q: Is it true that manual FUE hair transplant procedures are better than robotic hair transplants because the physician can adjust and feel the follicle when extracting? — M.H. ~ Great Neck, N.Y.

A: The ARTAS robot is a physician controlled, computerized device that uses a three-dimensional optical system to isolate follicular units from the back of the scalp in a hair transplant. The robotic system assists the physician in the extraction of grafts with precision and speed. Although there is some advantage to having “human feel” for the tissue, this is far outweighed by the fact that repetitive procedures performed manually thousands of times lead to operator fatigue and result in increased transection and damage to grafts. With the ARTAS robotic system, the quality of the first and the last graft harvested will be the same.

Read about advantages of the ARTAS Robot over manual FUE procedures

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Q: What is the difference between the ARTAS 9x and the earlier versions of the robot? — T.J. ~ Washington, D.C.

A: The differences can be grouped into four broad categories:

1. Speed: The 9x is 20% faster than the 8x. This is achieved through the ARTAS robot’s ability to more quickly and accurately align with the follicles, faster movement from follicular unit to follicular unit while harvesting, and a shortened dissection cycle (less than 2 seconds). In addition, the 9x uses white LED lights instead of red, which permits an increased work flow from the ability to simultaneously incise and extractions grafts. The decreased strain on the eyes from the white lights (compared to red) makes this possible.

2. Accuracy: The 9x uses smaller needles that minimize wounding and donor scarring. It is especially useful for patients with fine hair or those who want to keep their hair short.

3. Functionality: The robotic arm on the 9x has a 1-inch base extender that gives the machine a longer reach and decreases the need for the patient to be repositioned. The ARTS 9x also has a smaller robotic head allowing the robot to harvest the grafts at a more acute angle. The ARTAS 9x also allows for more site making options due to the universal blade holder and the ability to program a change in the orientation of the incision in different regions of the scalp. The ARTAS 9x also uses a new harvesting halo to secure the tensioner (the grid-like device that indicates where the robot should harvest) which is faster to apply and more comfortable for the patient.

4. Use of Artificial Intelligence: The technology notifies the physician early-on if the harvesting is not precise, so that action can be taken to ensure most effective results. The ARTAS software can now detect areas with low (or no) hair density and prevent those areas from being over-harvested. This also decreases human error and saves time by automatically blocking these areas with low density. Finally, the ARTAS Hair Studio, can now create a 3-D image of the patient’s head with only one photo (as opposed to the prior requirement of 3 to 5).

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Robert M. Bernstein, MD, New York, NY, [email protected]; Michael B. Wolfeld, MD, New York, NY, [email protected]; Jennifer Krejci MD, San Antonio, TX, [email protected]

Disclosures: Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Wolfeld hold equity interest in Restoration Robotics, Inc. Dr. Bernstein is a medical consultant to the company and is on its medical advisory board.

ABSTRACT

Since the introduction of robotic FUE technology over five years ago, there have been numerous upgrades to the system. The current paper describes the most recent advances. These include a more user-friendly interface, the ability to select for larger follicular units, greater range-of-motion of the robotic arm, improved methods for stabilizing the scalp and newly designed needles for more accurate harvesting.

Background

The ARTAS Robotic System, developed by Restoration Robotics Inc., was first available for commercial use in 2011. Continued improvements in both its hardware and software have made it an increasingly valuable tool for physicians performing follicular unit extraction (FUE). Over 180 hair restoration surgeons world-wide currently use robotic technology to assist them in their FUE procedures. Recent advances in the robotic system have increased its speed and precision and new modifications have made it more user-friendly. The robotic system can be used for both harvesting and site creation. This writing focuses on improvements to robotic graft harvesting.

Touchscreen User Interface

Fig 1. Touchscreen user interfaceFig 1. Touchscreen user interface

The robotic system is an interactive, computer-assisted suite of hardware and software that uses optical-guidance robotics to identify and isolate follicular units in the donor area and create sites for grafts in the recipient area. In the earlier iterations, doctors used a mouse to control the operations of the robot. This required the physician to be seated with one hand resting on the mouse and slowed down the procedure. A touch screen has been developed to make operating the robot more intuitive and to speed up the ability to make real-time adjustments while the physician is standing and observing the patient. Most of the controls are aggregated to one area on this screen for ease of use. The touchscreen can be used alone or with the traditional mouse and keyboard, depending upon the user’s preference. (Figure 1.)

Follicular Unit Graft Selection

Fig 2. Follicular unit graft selectionFig 2. Follicular unit graft selection

The follicular unit (FU) graft selection capability of the robotic system has been added to enable physicians to select follicular units based on hair content. The physician now has the option to harvest larger follicular units and skip over smaller ones, particularly one-hair units. The purpose is to harvest the most hair through the smallest number of wounds. FU graft selection has two main benefits: 1) It can generate a greater number of larger FU grafts to maximize the fullness of the restoration, and 2) it can be used to harvest larger FUs that can be microscopically dissected to generate a greater number of smaller grafts with a minimal number of donor wounds. Skipping over one-hair follicular units increases the number of hairs per graft by 11.4% with the one-pass method (selecting for FUs with 2 or more hairs) and 6.6% with the two-pass technique (adding a second pass to harvest 1-hair FUs skipped in the first pass) compared to a random selection of grafts. ((Bernstein RM, Wolfeld MB. Robotic follicular unit graft selection. Dermatologic Surgery 2016; 42(6): 710-14.)) (Figure 2.)

Locking Tensioner Tool

The tensioner is a compressible, polycarbonate device that is used to assist the vision system and to stretch and stabilize the skin prior to extraction. Fiducials, on the top of the tensioner’s rectangular surface, are used by the robot’s optical system to orient the arm for harvesting and to record the location of previously harvested grafts. (A fiducial is a marker placed in the field of view of an imaging system for use as a point of reference or a measure.) The undersurface has pins that grip the skin. (Figure 3.) The tensioner is compressed with a handle placed on the donor scalp and then allowed to passively expand, stretching the skin. (Figure 4.) It is secured with elastic straps to the patient’s headrest. (Figure 5.)

Fig 3. Pins on undersurface of tensionerFig 3. Pins on undersurface of tensioner
Fig 4. Tensioner with locking tool and standFig 4. Tensioner with locking tool and stand

The re-designed tensioner tool has a thumb-activated catch and release mechanism, so that once the tensioner is grasped, constant pressure is not needed. This makes it easier to operate and places significantly less stress on the physician’s hands. It also allows the tensioner and handle to be loaded and placed on a stand that holds the instrument and protects the pins when not in use. This keeps the handle in a position to be grabbed easily. (Figure 4.) The handle can thus be set up in advance, increasing the speed of this step of the procedure.

Improved Halo

Fig 5. Double-notched halo to secure elastic strapsFig 5. Double-notched halo to secure elastic straps

The tensioner is held in place by 1) pins that grip the skin, 2) the recoil of the compressed tensioner, and 3) elastic straps that are stretched and secured in grooves located on the base of the headrest and/or on a halo device. The advantage of a halo is that the forces are lateral (rather than downward) and thus more comfortable for the patient. It also causes less torque on the tensioner, allowing it to better follow the contour of the patient’s scalp. A newly designed halo has a double-notch and central protuberance that makes the bands more secure and enables the physician to more rapidly secure the bands using one hand. (Figure 5.)

Arm Spacer to Increase Range of Motion

Fig 6. One-inch spacer to increase range of motionFig 6. One-inch spacer to increase range of motion

A one-inch extension of the robotic arm allows the instrument to harvest at a more acute angle than was previously possible. It also increases the range of motion of the robotic arm. It is particularly useful when harvesting on the sides and lower occipital regions of the scalp. The greater reach increases the number of grafts that can be harvested without repositioning the patient, thereby saving operating time and leaving the patient undisturbed. (Figure 6.)

Improved Image Processing for Glare

Glare can interfere with the optimal functioning of the optical system. It may be caused by the light of the needle mechanism or the natural light of a bright operating room. When glare is present, it affects how the system identifies the hair and can prevent the system from recognizing hair that would be eligible for harvesting. With improved digital image processing, the system can better visualize existing hair, even in areas of glare within the grid. As a result, the number of grafts harvested per grid is increased.

Assisted Force-Drag

For the robotic arm to engage with the donor scalp, it must be aligned with the fiducials on the top of the tensioner. In the past, this alignment had to be performed manually. The new “Assisted Force-Drag” technology enables the robot to self-align to the tensioner as soon as the fiducials are detected by the vision system. This feature obviates the need for the manual step and allows for an overall faster workflow.

Puncture Depth (PD) Band Detection

Fig 7. Bands on 2- and 4-pronged needlesFig 7. Bands on 2- and 4-pronged needles

The robot uses a two-step, sharp/blunt punch technique based on the ideas of Dr. Jim Harris. Puncture depth bands enable the robot’s computer to measure the depth of the needle (punch) in the scalp. The robot then uses this information to improve the accuracy of the subsequent puncture. Puncture depth band detection may be affected by the presence of blood, hair, and shadows from the tensioner. Improved algorithms that guide PD band detection have increased its accuracy by 9% compared to earlier versions, even in the face of these artifacts. (Figure 7.)

4-Prong Needle

The robot was initially designed with a two-pronged, sharp-punch. The advantage of this design was that the long prongs were able to anchor lax skin. A disadvantage was that it was less efficient when the scalp was tighter, or more fibrotic, and when the arm had to operate at a more acute angle to the surface of the scalp. To mitigate this limitation, a 4-prong needle was developed. The 4-prongs allow for cleaner incisions with better anchoring to tissue at acute angles. This advance results in improved yield, especially in areas below the occiput and on the side of the head. It is also more effective in patients with tougher tissue. (Figure 7.) A 3-pronged needle is currently being developed for tight and/or fibrotic skin as well as lax skin.

6-mm Punch

Fig 8. 6-mm punchFig 8. 6-mm punch

The original robotic system used a 4-mm rotating dull-punch to dissect the body of the graft from the surrounding tissue. The limitation of this design is that it was less effective in patients with longer hair follicles (i.e., greater than 4.5mm). With longer hair follicles, the collar of the 4-mm punch pushed on the skin and, as a result, splayed the grafts and/or bent the bulbs.

The new punch is 6-mm tip-to-shoulder so that full dissection of longer follicles can be accomplished with less distortion of the skin. This modification avoids damage to the lower portion of the grafts. (Figures 8, 9.).

Fig 9. Grafts 7-mm in length harvested using a 19-gauge, 4-prong needle and 6-mm dull punch
Fig 9. Grafts 7-mm in length harvested using a 19-gauge, 4-prong needle and 6-mm dull punch

The Future

A host of new modifications are in the pipeline. In addition to the 3-prong needle, a color camera is being developed that allows the robot to read white-light. This will make the operating field easier on the eyes (compared to the current red lights). Other advances include improved dissection, a smaller punch (0.8mm), an automatic scar detector, a 20% increase in harvesting speed, the ability for physicians to harvest at an angle as low as 30 degrees from the scalp, and several advances that will make site creation more user-friendly.

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ARTAS 9x - First Commercial Case at Bernstein MedicalFirst ever case with ARTAS 9x at Bernstein Medical – Click to watch video

In April 2017, Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration became the first hair restoration practice to perform robotic hair transplant surgery using the new ARTAS Robotic System 9x. ARTAS 9x is a major upgrade of the hair transplant robot, enabling faster and more precise Robotic FUE procedures.

Some of the hardware improvements to the system include a white light LED, color camera and tensioner, 20-gauge harvesting needle, robotic base extender, new needle mechanism cover, and more comfortable headrest and halo. Software upgrades include better scar detection, faster harvesting, ability to zoom into the main viewing screen, and improved ARTAS Hair Studio software.

Color Camera and White LED Light

The original ARTAS robotic system used a black and white optical system and a red LED light. It used a red light source so that blood on the scalp wouldn’t interfere with the ARTAS algorithms. However, clinical staff found that the red light caused eye fatigue over time.

The new optical system uses color cameras and white LED lights so technicians can extract grafts while the system is still harvesting without risk of eye fatigue. The color cameras also allow the robot to associate colors with shapes increasing the visual sharpness and accuracy of the system.

ARTAS 9x - White vs Red LED LightPrevious versions of the robot used a red LED light (left), ARTAS 9x uses a white light (right)

Assisted Force-Drag

In order for the robot to begin harvesting or site making, it must first align the robotic arm to the grid area defined by a tensioner device. In previous versions of the robot, the robotic arm needed to be manually aligned with the fiducials (indicators) on the top of the tensioner. The new Assisted Force-Drag technology enables the robot to self-align as soon as the fiducials are detected by the optical system. This speeds up the procedure and makes it more efficient by minimizing set-up time between grids.

Robotic Arm Base Extender

Restoration Robotics has modified the robotic arm by adding a base extender in order to achieve a longer reach without increasing the size and weight of the robot itself. The longer reach decreases the need for patient repositioning and chair adjustments and thus decreases the duration of the procedure.

Automatic Scar Detection

ARTAS 9x - Improved Scar DetectionARTAS 9x detects and blocks harvesting from areas with scarring

The ARTAS robotic software can now detect areas with low (or no) hair density and systematically block those areas and that immediately around it from being harvested. The step was done manually in earlier versions. This shortens harvesting time in patients with scarring as it automatically prevents overharvesting in these areas.

Recipient Site Making Blade Holder

Originally, robotic site creation used needles to create recipient sites in the patient’s scalp. However, some physicians prefer to use blades over needles. To address this, Restoration Robotics has developed a blade holder so that surgeons can use either needles or blades. The new blade holder also allows the use of 3rd party blade tips, further enabling the doctor to customize the procedure.

20-Guage Harvesting Needle

The ARTAS 9x robot has the capability of using a very fine 20-guage harvesting needle and punch that permits grafts to be removed though a significantly smaller incision. When appropriate, the use of this needle allows for a harvest with less tissue attached to the grafts. This reduces the need for trimming grafts and speeds up the procedure. It further minimizes the size of the recipient wounds.

Newly Designed Robotic Arm, Headrest, and Halo

The head of the ARTAS robot arm has been reduced in size to increase its mobility and decrease the need for repositioning the patient. This increases patient comfort and shortens the operating time.

An improved site making headrest includes a new, more comfortable pillow with a memory foam layer. The harvesting halo now has rounded edges that allow for secure, faster tensioner placement.

ARTAS Hair Studio

The ARTAS Hair Studio is also improved, now requiring the physician to take just one photo to create the 3D image of the patient’s scalp. With the 9x version of the ARTAS Hair Studio, the surgeon can now zoom in on the user interface screen during recipient site creation and simultaneously examine details and monitor the entire procedure.

Robotic FUE at Bernstein Medical

Bernstein Medical’s Robotic Hair Transplant Center of New York® is among the first facilities in the world to use the ARTAS robot to perform FUE, a procedure pioneered by Dr. Bernstein. Our practice is a beta-test site for this innovative hair restoration technology and Dr. Bernstein is a medical adviser to Restoration Robotics, the company that manufactures the ARTAS robot.

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Dr. Bernstein closed the 2017 ARTAS Users Meeting with a discussion of five advanced techniques in robotic hair transplant procedures that he developed at Bernstein Medical. His presentation covered the benefits of pre-making recipient sites, long-hair FUE, tensioner placement, feathering edges in harvesting, and robotic graft selection. The “Hair Restoration Pearls” presentation included case studies, photographs, and videos demonstrating the techniques to the audience of hair restoration physicians. The two-day affair; which was held in Coronado, California; was a huge success, with over 260 attendees from around the world representing 204 robotic hair restoration practices.

Pre-Making Recipient Sites
There are several advantages of pre-making recipient sites in Robotic FUE procedures. One of the most important is that grafts are out of the body for a shorter period, which increases graft survival. During placement, there is less bleeding and greater graft stickiness, which result in increased visibility for the physician, less graft popping, and up to a 30% decrease in placing time. By pre-making sites, the physician can determine the exact number of grafts needed in the hair transplant. Also, the healing process can begin in the recipient area in advance of placing. This creates a fertile bed of oxygenated tissue with factors that promote healing and the subsequent growth of the follicular unit grafts.

Long-Hair Robotic FUE

In Long-Hair Robotic FUE, the patient has their hair temporarily lifted with tape during the hair transplant surgery. The physician then harvests from the donor area in a linear configuration so that, after the procedure, the long hair is let down covering the harvested area. The long-hair technique can be applied using one harvesting row (which yields up to 1,600 grafts), a double-row (2,000 grafts), or two separate rows (2,400). Long-Hair Robotic FUE, using the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System, allows the donor area to be camouflaged immediately after surgery and does not limit a patient’s ability return to work. It also makes robotic hair transplants more practical for women, who usually prefer not to shave their donor area.

Tensioner Placement

Dr. Bernstein discussed a new two-handed technique for applying the robotic tensioner to the patient’s scalp. The tensioner applies traction to the scalp, stabilizes the skin, limits bleeding, and provides a system of fiducials that the ARTAS robot “reads” for proper orientation. Dr. Bernstein showed a video in which he demonstrates the technique and discusses the importance of applying the silicon straps as vertically as possible to ensure the greatest tension and stability. The two-hand technique allows for reduced stress on the physician’s hands, better control, and more accurate placement of the tensioner. It also facilitates easier edge engagement to create tension on the skin in preparation for harvesting.

Feathering Edges
Feathering is a common technique to avoiding a squared-off, geometric look after the FUE procedure. It allows the patient to maintain a natural look while wearing their hair short after the procedure. Dr. Bernstein presented two different ways to feather using existing capabilities of the ARTAS system. Dr. Bernstein showed how the physician can both round the edges of the harvest area and decrease the density on the outer edges, with simple, reproducible techniques. Most importantly, he discussed the situations in which feathering is important and the ones in which it should not be used.

Robotic Follicular Unit Graft Selection

Robotic graft selection is an advance over the harvesting technique used in earlier iterations of the ARTAS robot. The robot previously harvested grafts at random. By creating a software algorithm designed to skip over one-hair units and select only the larger follicular units, the harvesting process improved in efficiency. According to Dr. Bernstein’s study, the clinical benefit is 11.4% more hairs per graft and 17% more hairs per harvest attempt using this technique. Larger follicular unit grafts can be dissected into one-hair units for use in the frontal hairline and other cosmetically important areas in order to create the most natural aesthetic outcome in the hair transplant while minimizing the number of recipient wounds.

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Onalytica - Robotics Top 100 Influencers

Onalytica, a company that provides Influencer Relationship Management software and services, has named Dr. Bernstein one of the top influencers (#39 out of 100) on the topic of robotics due to his pioneering work in robotic hair transplant surgery with the ARTAS Robotic System.

Onalytica surveyed more than 550,000 tweets mentioning “robotics” or “robotic” over a span of 90 days (September – November 2016), including over 96,000 engaged twitter users, then used proprietary software to rank the most influential individuals and brands in the Twittersphere. The listing takes into account the level of engagement of each user’s tweets, the relevance to the topic, the influencer’s number of followers, and how frequently the influencer is listed in others’ Twitter lists. Dr. Bernstein is the only surgeon, hair transplant or otherwise, listed in the Top 40 of individual influencers.

Dr. Ordon and Dr. Bernstein discussing the latest advances in the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant SystemDr. Bernstein and Dr. Ordon of The Doctors discussing advances in Robotic FUE

Robotics is a hot topic in the tech sector and according to one report, the service robotics market is expected to surpass $18 billion by the year 2020. Robotics has an increasing number of uses in healthcare, and thanks to Dr. Bernstein and Restoration Robotics the ARTAS system will continue to be on the cutting edge in surgical applications of robotics in the treatment of hair loss for years to come.

Make sure to follow @bernsteinhair for the latest on robotic hair transplants.

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Q: I have read that the ARTAS System works best on straight black hair. Is this an option for gray hair? How about wavy or curly hair? – P.W., Fort Lee, NJ

A: The ARTAS robotic system can be used in patients with any hair color although in order for the robot to visualize white hair (or very light blond hair) the hair must be dyed. Curly hair is also not a problem as the donor hair in a robotic procedure is shaved to approximately 1 mm in length so a wave or curl is eliminated. In patients of African descent, where the hair below the surface of the skin may be curved, a slightly larger punch can be used. we have patients dye their hair the evening before or the day of the procedure. For convenience, only the hair in the donor area (back and sides) where the robot will be doing the harvesting needs to be dyed.

In patients who prefer not to shave or dye the entire back and sides of the scalp, we can perform the ARTAS robotic FUE using the long-hair technique. With this technique, you will grow your hair on the back and sides of the scalp a bit longer so it can cover the harvested area. On the day of the procedure, we will lift up the hair, clip a long thin band of donor hair and then extract follicular units from this limited region of the scalp. After the procedure, you can simply comb down your hair to cover the donor zone. The area that has been harvested (and possibly dyed depending on your hair color) will not be visible.

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Dr. Ordon and Dr. Bernstein discussing the latest advances in the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant SystemDr. Ordon and Dr. Bernstein discussing the latest advances in the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant System

Dr. Andrew Ordon — Emmy-nominated co-host of the award-winning talk show “The Doctors” — and Dr. Robert Bernstein met at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration in New York City on March 3, 2016, to discuss the latest advances in robotic hair transplantation.

Some of the topics they discussed include the advanced LED touchscreen interface (illustrated above), a new automated graft selection capability, and the robot’s upgraded image-guidance system, which enables more precise harvesting and a further reduction of graft transection.

Dr. Bernstein appeared on “The Doctors” in 2012. On that program, he discussed how the precision technology of the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System enables doctors to extract thousands of follicular units without human error entering the equation.

Video: Dr. Bernstein on “The Doctors”

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Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University and founder of Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration, presented results of a study on a major new advance in follicular unit harvesting using the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant System at the 2016 ARTAS User Group Meeting in Dana Point, CA on February 20, 2016. Dr. Bernstein described the clinical benefit of the new advanced graft harvesting capability, a technique with wide implications for the increasingly popular robotic hair restoration procedure.

Dr. Bernstein Presenting at the 2016 ARTAS User Group MeetingDr. Bernstein Presenting at the 2016 ARTAS User Group Meeting

New York, NY — Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, a pioneer of robot-assisted hair transplantation, presented results of a study on a major new advance in robotic follicular unit harvesting, a key step in the surgical procedure, at the 2016 ARTAS User Group Meeting in Dana Point, CA. He reported that the new robotic technique resulted in a clinical benefit of up to 15% more hairs per harvest attempt and 11.4% more hairs per graft than with the current iteration of the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant System. The improvement in graft harvesting should result in better aesthetic outcomes for patients, and this will have wide implications around the world as robotic hair transplant procedures are booming in popularity. Dr. Bernstein presented the findings to a “who’s who” group in the new field of robotic hair restoration surgery at their annual meeting held on February 20th, 2016.

When asked about the significance of advanced robotic harvesting, Dr. Bernstein said:

“Through the hard work and ingenuity that went into developing the robot’s new graft selection capability, we have moved this new ARTAS application from the ‘proof of concept’ phase into an enabling technology that improves patient care.”

In robotic follicular unit extraction (Robotic FUE) hair transplants, the surgeon seeks to harvest as much hair as possible through the fewest number of donor sites. By maximizing the hair-to-donor wound ratio, they can maximize the cosmetic benefit of the procedure. The ARTAS robot’s new advanced graft selection capability uses its updated computer algorithm to determine which of the hundreds of follicular units — naturally-occurring groupings of one to four hair follicles — to harvest. By programming the computer to select only the larger follicular units (i.e., ones containing two or more hairs), the robot can automatically maximize the hair-to-wound ratio. The result is more hairs harvested with fewer post-transplant scars and an improved cosmetic outcome for the patient. Previously, the robot randomly selected follicular units to harvest.

Advanced Robotic Graft Selection

To demonstrate the benefit of advanced automated graft selection, Dr. Bernstein presented findings of a randomized, bilaterally-controlled study performed on robotic FUE patients at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration. The robot was programmed to select follicular units of two or more hairs in a first pass, and then all follicular units in a second pass. The control for the experiment was an area, on the contra-lateral side, that was harvested with the graft selection capability disabled. The first pass yielded 15% more hairs per harvest attempt and 11.4% more hairs per graft compared to the control. The second pass yielded 12.3% more hairs per harvest attempt and 6.4% more hairs per graft. These findings suggest that there is a significant clinical benefit in using the advanced graft selection capability when compared to random selection of follicular units.

Robotic Hair Transplants at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration

Dr. Bernstein performing robotic hair transplant at Bernstein Medical
Dr. Bernstein performing robotic hair transplant at Bernstein Medical

Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration was among the first hair restoration facilities in the world to use the ARTAS system to perform Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), a procedure pioneered by Dr. Bernstein. Bernstein Medical is a beta-test site for this innovative technology. Bernstein Medical physicians have introduced many new applications to the robotic system, including: robotic recipient site creation, advanced graft harvesting, custom punch sizes, and a “long-hair” harvesting technique. Every FUE procedure at Bernstein Medical uses the ARTAS Robot. Dr. Bernstein is a medical advisor to Restoration Robotics, Inc., the company that developed and manufactures the ARTAS system.

About Robert M. Bernstein, MD, MBA, FAAD, FISHRS

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein is a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University in New York, renowned pioneer of Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Robotic Follicular Unit Extraction (Robotic FUE) hair transplant procedures, and founder and lead surgeon at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration. His more than 70 medical publications have fundamentally transformed the field of surgical hair restoration and he has received the Platinum Follicle Award, the highest honor in the field given by the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS). Dr. Bernstein has been featured on: The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Doctors on CBS, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, Univision, and many other television shows. He has been interviewed by GQ Magazine, Men’s Health, Vogue, Interview Magazine, NY Post, National Public Radio, Columbia Business, The Columbia Journalist, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

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Q: How are specifications for making recipient sites inputted into the ARTAS® robot? — A.F., Queens, NY

A: At the outset of the procedure, the physician sits at a computer terminal that is connected to the ARTAS Robot and enters the specifications directly into the robot’s software. Variables programmed in this manner include the number of recipient sites, density of sites, angle that the hair will extrude from the skin, depth of recipient sites, and the minimum distance away from existing hair follicles that a site can be created.

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Q: How does the ARTAS System avoid damaging hair follicles in the balding area during recipient site creation? — R.K., Brooklyn, NY

A: The ARTAS robot‘s optical guidance system enables it to accurately create recipient sites in areas of thinning hair without damaging existing hair follicles. During the recipient site creation process, the robot uses its advanced image-guided optical system to scan the surface of the skin, locate existing hair follicles in the recipient area, and then create recipient sites at a specified distance from these existing hairs.

The ARTAS robot carries out this process rapidly, accurately, and consistently according to the physician’s programmed specifications. Thanks to the microscopic precision of the image-guided technology, the robotic hair transplant system can avoid injury to follicles that can result when Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) is performed using manual techniques.

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