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Wisconsin Researchers Working on New Way to Deliver Electric Pulse Therapy

When we at Arocha Hair Restoration recently saw reports from the University of Wisconsin announcing a potential new hair growth therapy that fits under a ball cap, we couldn’t help but think of a therapy we’ve been prescribing for years. We’ve achieved positive patient results using the FDA-approved LaserCap® LCPRO™, which uses low-level laser therapy inside a ball cap to stabilize or stop hair loss.

That’s why the article, “Self-Activated Electrical Stimulation for Effective Hair Regeneration via a Wearable Omnidirectional Pulse Generator,” published in the journal ACS Nano, captured our attention. If the FDA has already approved the LaserCap technology and it is already widely used by patients experiencing hair loss, why is the University of Wisconsin embarking on more research for what appears to be essentially the same solution?

What we learned in an email exchange with the lead investigator from UW-Madison is that the two technologies are significantly different, even if they look similar.

“The key difference is we use electric field to stimulate,” said Xudong Wang, Grainger Institute for Engineering Professor with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and UW-Madison. “The LaserCap uses infrared light to stimulate. These are two different mechanisms, and both have been proved effective and understood for many years.”

As Professor Wang told us, the medical community has known for a long time that electric pulse stimulation can have positive effects on hair growth. Positive research results can be traced back at least to 1990, but finding ways to deliver this therapy hasn’t been easy, since it’s best delivered frequently and over a relatively long period of time.

For this reason, the technology leap that Professor Wang and his team are pursuing may be important. They are working to figure out how to deliver low-frequency electric pulse stimulation in a very compact form. By fitting it under a normal ball cap, they would be able to make it possible for patients to benefit from therapy over very long periods of time. In concept, nobody would be aware that under the ball cap is a device shooting electric pulses into the scalp.

The LaserCap is slightly bigger than the typical ball cap, but it also has the advantage of coming in a form factor that makes frequent use convenient.

Another significant difference is the power source for the device. LaserCap uses a rechargeable lithium battery, which provides the necessary energy for the low-level laser light therapy to be effective. Professor Wang and his team are working on a way to harness the energy from a person’s own day-to-day motion, such as nodding your head or looking to the side, so they wouldn’t need to power their technology with a battery.

“For our development, we created a device that can directly convert kinetic motions into regular electric pulses for the stimulation,” Wang told us. Small devices called nanogenerators passively gather energy from day-to-day movement and turn it into pulses.

We spoke with Dr. Michael Rabin, the creator of LaserCap, to get his thoughts about the idea of utilizing natural energy to power a therapeutic device. While he was enthusiastic about the interest of the UW-Madison research team and welcomed anyone who is working to advance and improve on current therapeutic technologies, he voiced skepticism about the proposed power source.

“I’m not sure they be able to get enough energy with the kinetics,” Dr. Rabin said. “You need a lot higher energy than originally thought, and that’s one of the reasons our latest product delivers greater power.”

Their latest innovation introduced earlier this year, called MC2, is vented to allow for higher power output with less buildup of heat. It isn’t intended to be used under a cap.

When we asked Professor Wang about these concerns, he said his team is confident that kinetic energy can produce the necessary power.

“The penetration capability of electric field is much stronger compared to light,” he told us. “We only need the electric field to go a couple of millimeters down the skin to stimulate hair follicles. Higher electric energy may go deeper into the tissue, which may induce side effects. We don’t have head-to-head efficacy comparison of the LaserCap device, but I think our device is at least more energy efficient to achieve similar results.”

Professor Wang’s study found that the electric pulses resulted in higher hair density and longer hair shaft length in subject mice, and he expects to press forward with human studies as early as next year.

We will look forward to watching how this develops!