WALL STREET JOURNAL – DECEMBER 22, 2011
by Lauren Goode
For two years, a privately held, Mountain View-based company called Restoration Robotics went through clinical trials while awaiting clearance from the FDA. Its product: A high-tech robot that performs hair-transplant procedures.
Now the machine, called Artas, is finally making its way into physicians’ offices across the U.S. The Artas robot works by automating the relatively new procedure of follicular unit extraction, in which individual hair follicles are taken from the back and sides of the head, after which the grafts are then implanted into the area of baldness. A traditional hair transplant would involve more invasive incisions and the manual application of the grafts to a patient’s head. With a robot, some doctors say, the procedure is more precise, and removes the element of human error.
Restoration Robotics and others credit a Denver-based physician, Dr. James Harris, for making many of the advances that lead to the robotic hair-transplant device.
For physicians, the Artas machine involves an initial investment of around $200,000. Staff training sessions, which are led by Restoration Robotics, can take up to five weeks.
For patients, the cost can vary. The fee for the robotic-assisted procedure is usually around $10 a graft. Insurance companies may cover the procedure in the event that it’s reconstructive. Dr. Bernstein says the bulk of his practice is cosmetic cases, but notes that he often won’t charge patients that have hair loss due to trauma, burns or chemotherapy. The Artas hair-transplant procedure can take up to eight hours. It’s generally done in one session, but a less-intensive follow-up procedure could also be required later on.
Doctors say it’s not dramatically faster than the traditional methods used in hair transplants, but it takes the human-error element out of the procedure. Surgeons can tire during a long procedure, during which thousands of hair follicles are replaced. They may be forced to take breaks and, naturally, are susceptible to error.
Dr. Bernstein also notes that, as is commonly the case with the introduction of automated machinery, having the Artas robotic system in his office means he can complete the same number of procedures, or more, with a leaner staff.
Currently there are four Artas systems in place across the U.S. — one in New York, another in Denver, and two in Los Angeles — and Restoration Robotics CEO Jim McCollum says the company is expecting to sell even more robots in the new year. He believes there’s potential for this to be a game-changing technology and also said there may be a market for Artas that focuses more on female patients, as well.
Restoration Robotics was founded in 2002; in 2007, the company raised $25 million from InterWest Partners, Alloy Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures. After Artas was cleared by the FDA in April of this year, the company secured $41 million in Series C funding from Clarus Ventures and other early investors, as discussed on The Wall Street Journal’s “Digits” show earlier this year.