Modern medicine has given us the miraculous ability to transplant hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers, pancreas, intestines, corneas and other organs from one person into another person. So, can we transplant hairs from one person to another person too? It’s a great question and one that I'm asked at least once each week. In theory the answer is yes, but in reality the answer is no. Let me explain.
Suppose we have two people, let’s call them Rob and Greg. Rob wants a hair transplant but doesn't have enough donor hair to complete the procedure. Greg has plenty of hair and has offered to donate some of it. If Rob were to receive hair from Greg, and those hairs were transplanted into Rob’s scalp, they would be quickly lost or ‘rejected’. The reason is that Rob’s immune system would view Greg’s hairs as foreign invaders and quickly destroy them. As a result, Rob would lose the hairs that were transplanted.
The reason that patients don’t reject organs such as lungs, hearts or kidneys when they are transplanted is due to the use of “anti-rejection drugs.” These drugs have many potential side effects and carry potential long term risks. They can not be prescribed unless there is a significant medical reason for which an individual needs immunosuppression. It is for this reason that a hair transplant is not performed from one person to another.
Interestingly, there are a few rare situations where it would be possible to receive donor hair from another person. The first situation would be a hair transplant in identical twins. Suppose I omitted to tell you that Rob and Greg are actually identical twins. In that case, Rob and Greg have the same genetic material and a hair transplant could be performed without the need for anti-rejection drugs.
The second situation would be if a bone marrow transplant were performed. A bone marrow transplant is a medical procedure which is typically performed only if an individual is very ill, such as in an individual with cancer. During a bone marrow procedure an individual undergoes a procedure whereby their own blood system and immune system is replaced by the immune system of another person. So, if Rob received a bone marrow transplant from Greg, could Rob then receive hairs from Greg to perform a hair transplant? The answer is yes. In fact, the Italian researchers Rosati and Bergamo studied this phenomenon and reported it to the public in their 1999 publication in the journal Dermatologic Surgery. They studied the growth of hairs in a single patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant. The transplanted hairs grew extremely well. Bone marrow transplantation is a very complex procedure and carries several potential risks to the patient so this procedure can only be performed in those who are seriously ill. It can not be used in healthy individuals.
In general, it is not possible to perform a hair transplant using donor hair from another person.
Source: Rosati P and Bergamo A. Allogenic hair transplant in a bone marrow transplant recipient. Dermatol Surg 1999; 25: 664-5.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887