Breakthrough hair transplant robot finds home in Skokie
Dr. Greg Turowski explains how his new robot works in helping to perform intricate hair transplants at his Skokie office. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
ARTAS HAIR REPLACEMENT SYSTEM
What: Breakthrough hair transplant robotic technology
Where: Dr. Gregory Turowski office, 9843 Gross Point Road, Skokie
Cost: Varies but typical is $10,000
Time: Six to eight hours
Phone: (847) 674-4646
Updated: September 25, 2012 11:14AM
SKOKIE — Some employees in Dr. Gregory Turowski’s Skokie office call the new assistant “Harry” although they admit his — or more accurately its — name is a bit cliched.
But what else would one call a breakthrough robot with the potential to revolutionize human hair transplants?
Harry deserves his own name since he has only six siblings in the world and he remains the only such “Harry” in the Midwest.
“It’s a less invasive way of doing what we’ve been doing for many years,” said Turowski from his office.
Turowski is a plastic surgeon at New Horizons Cosmetic Center, 9843 Gross Point Road. He performs a variety of cosmetic surgeries and was on the ground floor of new technology in human hair transplants.
And now he owns the only “Harry” in the region, a contraption in blue that allows an anesthetized patient to lean forward while sitting in a comfortable chair, his head and chin situated just right while the machine works its magic.
The process in transplanting hair is more thorough and efficient, and the results are better than the old-fashioned way, Turowski says.
“It’s a robot, but it doesn’t operate by itself,” Turowski said, making the case that Harry doesn’t eliminate the need for his job. “But it’s a very complicated process.”
The machine, called the ARTAS System and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, extracts follicles “quickly and painlessly” from the back of the head. They are implanted into balding areas using controlled pneumatic pressure to smoothly slide out each graft.
The machination is not dissimilar to the robots that make cars in Detroit, Turowski said, with a swinging arm, lasers and mirrors.
“There is no twisting, pulling or cutting so there is no damage to the hair,” Turowski said.
The implant, done by robot, still requires the surgeon to use his “artistic skills” to create a natural hairline, but the machine can harvest 500 hair follicles in an hour.
“This machine has taken hair transplantation to a different level,” Turowski said. “This is something we’ve been looking at and planning for a long time and now it’s actually here.”
Turowski was one of the national pioneers to make this technology reality. The idea of transplanting thicker hair from the back of a patient’s head to sparser areas in front is not revolutionary, of course; hair transferred from back to front maintains its ability to stay and always has.
“If you transfer it to the front, it behaves like in the back,” the doctor said. “It doesn’t fall out.”
But the process to pull this off — both literally and figuratively — was for years achieved through “punch grafting.” It could make the patient’s head look like a doll’s head with noticeable plugs. Small circular scars could be seen in back where the follicles were removed.
“It looks awful,” Turowski said. “Joe Biden has a little bit of that although he’s now fixed that somewhat thanks to these kind of machines.”
Instead of taking a strip of hair, which often left unsightly scars, Harry can remove single hairs from the back of the head — hairs that grow back without any noticeable scarring. The transplanted hair in front is close to seamless.
About three years ago, Turowski and other pioneers began this process by hand with limited help from the machine. But to conduct such intricate work by hand takes much longer and is operator-dependent leading to less exactitude.
The breakthrough was the creation of Harry, the ARTAS robot that was approved by the FDA last year after years of development.
In essence, Turowski said, Harry is an extension of the da Vinci Surgical System, which has made so many surgeries in medicine less invasive.
“This is not only what’s happening with hair transplantation, it’s really what’s happening in all of medicine now,” Turowski said. “We’re going more and more into robotic surgery.”
According to Jim McCollum, president and CEO of Restoration Robotics, which makes the system, “The ARTAS system has the potential to transform the global hair restoration market.”
The transplant can be completed in one day — it takes between six and eight hours — and the typical cost is $10,000 although it varies. That’s more than the old process by about a third, Turowski admits, but patients go back to work earlier because hair grows back quickly and there is little or no scarring.
Those patients who have had the treatment in Skokie can attest to this although they asked that their names not be used.
One from Illinois had a hair transplant the old-fashioned way before, but his new transplant performed by Harry a couple months ago is much better, he said. “The result is very different,” he said. “I’m very satisfied. ARTAS has made the best product in the world.”
A 38-year-old Chicago patient worked with Harry only about five weeks ago. While he said it’s too early to tell appearance differences between this new transplant and an old one he had, there certainly were differences in the process.
When he had his first transplant, he said, it felt like “someone cracked (him) in the back of the head with a baseball bat.”
This time, the transplant was much less painful, he said, and he was back to work and day-to-day living in much less time.
The Skokie office has had Harry since earlier this year — the fifth of seven such machines in the world — and Turowski has completed about 25 transplants.
Turowski believes there will be many more to come as Harry is just beginning his run. The cost will come down, the doctor said, and the technology will be improved. He realizes that Harry, which cost about $100,000, is an investment — especially in this economy.
Turowski though said his successful practice featuring other cosmetic surgeries has helped support the new hair transplant technology.
“It will get better and better as we go along,” he said. “It’s a major improvement to what we were doing for a long time. It’s not perfect but what is? If we waited for perfection, we still wouldn’t have the iPhone.”