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 "Hair Cloning"

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Hair Cloning

The breakthrough came in 1952.

Norman Orentreich, a dermatologist at New York University, transplanted circular plugs of hair-bearing skin from the back of the scalp to the front.

The result wasn't pretty, but it was a start.

Through the years, surgeons transplanted smaller and smaller plugs in more natural, scattershot patterns -- until 1988, when Bobby Limmer, a dermatologist in San Antonio showed that individual follicles could be transplanted and grow hairs. The process is virtually painless, and the risk of serious complications is rare, doctors say. In some cases, there may be minor problems, such as swelling of the forehead for a day or two and numbness of the scalp for about six months. Antibiotics eliminate the minimal risk of infection.

During the procedure, the scalp is numbed using a topical anesthetic such as Novocain. The surgeon removes a strip of follicle-rich skin from the back of the head. Assistants cut the strip into smaller sections, then into individual follicles, each sprouting one to three hairs. The surgeon implants each follicle into a tiny incision in the scalp.

Hello Dolly - The birth of Cloning

The next big step in hair restoration is cloning.

Right now, there's a limit to the amount of hair a man has left to use for a transplant, but if we can take scalp tissue, isolate the follicular stem cells, grow the cells in a matrix, and then inject them back into the scalp of the donor, we'll be able to grow new follicles.

Earlier this year, George Cotsarelis, director of the University of Pennsylvania's hair-and-scalp clinic, reported in the Journal of Biotechnology that the cloning of follicular cells has been successful in mice. The process could be used to generate follicle growth in humans within the next decade, Cotsarelis said.

For now, though, follicular transplants are considered state-of-the-art. And that's good enough for Ricardo Rodriguez, a Web-content producer from Deltona who plans to undergo hair restoration later this month at Bosley's clinic in Boca Raton. "I'm getting thin on top and in the front," says Rodriguez, 33. "I've consulted my wife, and she doesn't have a problem with the way my hair looks. But it bothers me."

He used Rogaine with little success. He wouldn't wear a toupee, he says, "because people respect you less if you have a wig than if you were bald."

But a follicular transplant is "artistic and natural-looking," he says. "It's not intrusive, it's not fake-looking. I don't see any negatives other than the cost -- about $8,000. But that can be seen as an investment."

For older men, hair loss can look dignified, says Rodriguez. "But at my age, it's almost like losing my youth. I'm too young for that to happen."

Paul Ellis

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