Tag Archives: medicine

Beard Implants: A Growing Trend?

Hipsters are known for their trends. From thick-rimmed glasses to flannel plaid, they always strive to be unique. However, none of these trends are as elusive as the full, thick beard so many hipsters strive for.

Photo Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons

Although hair transplantation surgeries have been available for years, beard transplants are becoming increasingly popular due to the latest male fashions. According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, facial transplant surgeries have increased 14.2% from 2008 to 2010 and it continues to be on the rise.

A beard transplant is historically done by a series of micrografts and minigrafts; harvesting the hair follicles from the back of the scalp and inserting them into incisions made on the face with a 0.8mm scalpel.  However, these techniques are very meticulous, time consuming and require quite a long healing period. In addition, these old techniques limit the surgeons to only harvesting 500-700 hair follicles in one surgery. Most patients require the harvesting of between 500 and 1000 follicles to complete their beard transplant, so this number is less than satisfactory.

The latest technique is called a NeoGraft Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) hair transplant. This technique still collects the hairs from the back of the scalp and implants them in the necessary regions on the face. However the Neograft device improves the accuracy and speed of a FUE hair transplant while being less invasive, and requiring significantly less healing time. Using Neograft, a surgeon is able to harvest and transplant over 1500 hair follicles in one surgery making it more desirable for those individuals who require more hairs to be transplanted.

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After the surgery one can expect the hairs that have been transplanted to grow as any normal hair would. A man will have to shave this hair like they would a normal beard. Dr. Bauman, the first plastic surgeon to routinely use the Neograft device says,

 “It takes about a week to heal from the procedure. It takes 6 to 12 weeks for hair to start to grow. Half of the transplanted follicles have visible growth after 6 months. The rest fill in after a year.”

Although the latest techniques make a beard transplant surgery a more minor procedure it is not without its costs. A typical beard transplant surgery costs $10 per follicle. This equates to a cost of anywhere between $5000 and $10000. In addition, it should be noted that the hairs that are removed from the back of scalp never grow back.

FUE hair transplant, similar to FUE beard transplant. Photo Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons

With less invasive procedures becoming available and the trend of a thick, full beard being more prominent than ever, it’s no wonder that beard transplants are becoming more popular. So, to all hipsters out there, you are not alone if you choose to embrace this growing trend.

Monica Leslie

The Return of the Woolly Mammoth?

What if it was possible to bring back the woolly mammoths? Should we do it, or would it be unethical to bring back a species that went extinct thousands of years ago?

From Wikipedia Commons

Woolly mammoths first appeared over 200,000 years ago and are similar to modern elephants but were adapted to the cold environment of the last ice age.

Recently scientists have found a female woolly mammoth that was about 2.5 years old buried in ice in Russia. This specimen was extremely well preserved due to the ice, which is remarkable since it was alive 39,000 years ago. The mammoth that they found still had fur and its internal organs mostly intact, most importantly scientist were able to extract mammoth blood.

The cloning process can only begin if the DNA is found to be useable and undamaged. Also since cloning is a relatively new process, methods would have to be created to do so and if scientists are successful in cloning the mammoth this could revolutionize the field of cloning. Also if it is possible, it could even be used to bring back endangered species.

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The main problem is whether or not we should do it because woolly mammoths had their chance and evolution selected against them. If scientists are successful in cloning the mammoth then that would be the only one of its entire species alive and in an environment that it is hardly even adapted to.

Artificial Organs?

Imagine if you or someone you know desperately needed an organ transplant and had to wait months to years for a chance to receive one. This is currently happening to people all over the world and according to the Globe and Mail the average wait transplant wait time in British Columbia is 2,145 days, which is far greater than the national average of 1,258 days. Such a long wait could be disastrous for patients and could even prove fatal if they don’t get a transplant in time. But what if there was a solution to this problem? This brings in the concept of human created artificial organs. As the name suggests artificial organs are created in synthetically using newly discovered scientific methods.

From Wikipedia Commons

The first case of a synthetic organ transplant happened in July 2011, when Swedish surgeons implanted the first synthetic trachea in a 36 year old cancer patient. The trachea was created to be nearly identical to the patient’s original organ by using a 3D laser scan and then using that they were able to craft a nearly identical organ. They also immersed the synthetic wind pipe in a stem cell solution which was created from the patient’s bone marrow.  A major benefit from this new method is that antirejection drugs are no longer required since the immune system would recognize the organ and would not attack it.

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Also other body parts could be replaced, for example the jaw bone for an 83 year old woman was replaced in 2012. The artificial jaw bone was created using a 3D printer based on a scan of her original bone that was damaged due to a bone infection. This scan was then used in a 3D printer and the new jaw was created out of titanium.

Although we are currently unable to replace vital organs such as kidneys, we may be able to do it in the future as science is always advancing and new discoveries are made everyday.

By: Justin

Perfect Pitch by Popping a Pill?

Have you ever wanted to win that karaoke contest on Saturday night, but just couldn’t seem to stay on key?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Encore Entertainment

Well, you may be in luck! Researchers have recently found that you can learn how to detect and produce absolute pitch, even as an adult, with the help of a pill.  In this study it was demonstrated that the ability to achieve absolute pitch could still be learned as an adult (with the aid of a pill) even though there is normally a critical period (usually early in life) for being able to learn this type behaviour.

Absolute pitch is the ability to identify or produce a tone without the aid of any reference tone and it is estimated that only 1 in 10,000 people actually have the ability to do this. Although it is believed to be a genetic trait, it was previously thought that if absolute pitch  was not learned during the critical period (from birth until around age 7) that it could never be obtained. However, with the help of a medication this critical period can be reopened and allow us more time to learn absolute pitch.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Yngve Bakken Nilsen

Valproate, or valproic acid is normally used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraine headaches. However, in the study mentioned earlier it was individuals taking valproate that were able to learn to identify pitch significantly better than individuals taking a placebo. Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, says: 

“It’s quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch.”

Valproate is thought to be able to achieve these results by modifying the brain’s plasticity to a more juvenile state. As we age, our neuroplasticity decreases and that’s what causes these critical periods to exist. So, a higher plasticity in adulthood allows us to learn things we were once only able to learn as a child. It makes the brain “young again”.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

What does this mean? Well, being able to win that karaoke competition may only be the start of it. Critical periods exist for a wide variety of other things including language development. This discovery could also potentially enable us to learn new languages more effectively. The possibilities are truly endless.

However, Takao Hensch warns:

“…Critical periods have evolved for a reason and it is a process that one probably would not want to tamper with carelessly … If we’ve shaped our identities through development, through a critical period, and have matched our brain to the environment in which we were raised … then if we were to erase that by reopening the critical period, we run quite a risk as well.”

Although this finding seems to have incredible potential, would winning karaoke really be worth losing part of your personality?

3-D Printers: Hope or hype?

        Over the past few years, hype over 3-D printing has continued to grow. With each new revelation comes increased anticipation of the industry’s potential, now including even the biomedical field. The media reports of printers designed to create almost unbelievable possibilities from live tissues, bone substitutes, to the potential of organs. However, how reputable are these claims?  How is this technology even possible? Well to start, simply by changing the ink.

A Standard Public 3-D Printer
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The “Ink” is Alive

        Genuine cells have been printed and successfully cultured into tissues through the use of “bio-ink”. This ink contains live cells in a formulation of matrix molecules. During printing, the cells are layered upon each other in an additive procedure, eventually resulting in a 3-D structure. Why bother “printing” out the cells? The appeal of 3-D printers is in the efficiency. They save countless hours of manual labour normally needed to layer a simple tissue, let alone an organ.

Beyond In-Vitro

      The BioPen goes beyond the standard of printing tissues onto slides. The handheld printer literally “draws” a framework onto damaged or missing pieces of bone. Initially, the pen deposits modified ink, a gel made from biopolymers and live cells, onto the targeted area. The notion is that by combining this with regenerative stem cell therapy, the polymers will eventually degrade and be replaced by new tissue. The BioPen would allow surgeons to deliver cells instantly and accurately as a temporary substitute.

Below is a short clip showing the pen in action, courtesy of the Australian Research Council of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES).

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Tailor Made Organs?

          3-D printing has large implications for the future of regenerative medicine, even if we are not quite there yet. This technology would reduce the demand for organ and tissue transplants, notorious for their long wait lists. Though it’s not near ready for clinical use, the bio-printing company Organovo claims that they will unveil the first 3-D printed liver by the end of 2014.

Cancerous liver cells: a common reason for the high demand of transplants
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The Hope

         3-D printing continues to rapidly evolve as it becomes more readily available in many fields. The 3-D biomedical industry is still in its initial stages, as researchers will have to overcome barriers to make it more efficient and economically feasible. Regardless, presentations have already demonstrated its viability, from the printing of live tissues to the BioPen’s application into orthopedic surgery. Ultimately, the potential of 3-D printing is likely to have large further implications for not only the medical industry, but society in general.

-Richelle Eger


“BioPen to Rewrite Orthopaedic Implants Surgery.” University of Wollongong.              N.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. “Need different types of tissue? Just print them.”                        ScienceDaily, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Institute of Physics. “3-D tissue printing: Cells from the eye inkjet-printed for the          first time.” ScienceDaily, 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.

Mearian, Lucas. “The First 3D Printed Organ – a Liver – Is Expected in 2014.”                    Computerworld. 26 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2014.