Alopecia awareness month: Hair regrowth made possible

BY MARLO SCOTT, Columnist

ST. PETERSBURG – If you’re one of the millions of Americans experiencing or facing the eventuality of that day when one too many hairs are lying on your bedroom pillow rather than sitting securely on your head, read on.

September is National Alopecia Awareness Month, and there is hope if you are suffering with this autoimmune disease.

“I had injections with stem cells about three years ago and it really made a significant difference in my appearance,” said John Satino, director of Laser Hair and Scalp Clinic. He started losing his hair back in the 60s and even had a hair transplant some 40 years ago, but touts new advances in hair restoration as his present savior.

Satino has been with Laser Hair and Scalp Clinic since its inception in 1989. The goal then was to study Propecia, the now FDA-approved oral medication for male-pattern baldness and to publish papers on their findings. Now the clinic doesn’t focus on publishing their findings as much, but aims more to help those losing their hair due to medical diagnoses such as Lupus and early onset hair loss.

Laser Hair and Scalp Clinic’s work with low-level lasers began in 2003 with a study Satino and his partner Dr. Michael Markou were conducting and cleared for use in 2007. Just two years later Satino started working with stem cells. A bioengineer, Satino has worked for NASA on muscle atrophy in space flight while becoming an international expert on hair transplantation. Past patients have included major television personalities, professional athletes, international and United States government officials, actors, musicians – you name it.

“They have to come through me first,” said Satino who interviews potential candidates, takes hair samples and assesses their situation.

The clinic is known internationally for their work with burn victims and those with diseases that cause hair loss, but also treats patients for cosmetic purposes as well. The only downfall…insurance doesn’t cover nonmedical procedures.

Patients with alopecia have seen tremendous results using some of the methods offered at the clinic. The first patient was injected back in 2009 on live television with amazing results. “All his hair grew back and he has not lost any hair since then,” said Satino. “It’s the first time we have ever seen a cure for that.”

Since then over 1,000 patients with alopecia areata have been treated.

The process, once approved as a good candidate for the procedure, is pretty straightforward. Stem cells are either separated from either fat removed by liposuction of the abdominal area or drawing blood depending on the individual. The patient receives gas and Novocain to numb the scalp where the injections take place. Afterwards laser treatment is given for roughly 15 minutes to open all the capillaries and bring the cells into the root of the hair.

A small comb like device with needles is given to patients to take home to use on their scalp. “The way stem cells work is they only go where there is trauma,” said Satino who tells his patients to use the comb once or twice a week.  “It keeps the cells coming in.”

For the most part Satino views the procedure as painless with patients leaving looking the same as when they first walked in. He pointed out there is sometimes swelling around the forehead due to the injections.

Weekly laser treatments are encouraged for the first few months. Patients can receive treatments at the clinic, or purchase a laser to use at home for the growing process to continue.

“If anything will help we encourage you to use it,” Satino stated and with about 1,000 of its patients being treated for male pattern baldness and another 1,000 due to diseases, pulling out all the stops is pretty common.

Any type of hair regrowth program can get expensive with $1,200 being the going rate to get started. “We really can’t guarantee what it will do,” Satino said who has seen great success but has also seen the other side.

For instance, treatment for alopecia totalis, which is the loss of all head hair. “We have not been successful there,” said Satino, “but the success rate with alopecia areata has been very good.”

They’ve also seen great success with scarring alopecia, which is prominent in the African-American community. Treatment consists of injections of platelet rich plasma and the use of stem cells from fat or blood.

The best advice Satino has is to get hair loss under control in the early stages. If standard hair therapy isn’t working, then a hair transplant or stem cell therapy should be considered.

But Satino, who discusses all viable options with his patients, stresses the need to speak with more than one professional in the field. “A lot of people aren’t candidates for this,” he said. “You want to get a lot of information.”

And to get started on finding out if you are a candidate for hair regrowth, check out the clinic’s website at hairscalplaserclinic.com. You have nothing to lose but more hair.

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