Welcome to One Crazy Question, where we pose a silly hypothetical query to one of the world’s foremost experts on a given subject.

Today’s question: could a non-black man get a hair transplant so that he could grow Iman Shumpert’s amazing afro? And in a broader sense, can guys grow other dudes’ hair? Could LeBron James grow the hair of Justin Bieber, or vice versa? (Okay, that’s three questions, but they’re all basically the same question.)

Fielding today’s inquiry: Dr. Baubac Hayatdavoudi, the medical director of Alvi Armani

“This specific study, what you’re asking, no one would really do, at least in the United States. It’s the ethical consideration of it. The study would probably not get approved by the review committee before you could conduct it in the United States. But other places may have done it.”

His answer:
[Warning: it’s a long one.]

“It’s an interesting question. The short answer would be, we have the technology now, today, to be able to do that, and the answer to that would be yes.

“And so this is what I mean. Currently folks have transplants from other people— organ transplants: kidneys, heart, lung, liver, pancreas. And with immunosuppression, they’re able to adopt the other person’s organs who has different genetics, different antigens on the body and circulating antibodies within that organ.

“If the immune system of humans were somehow suppressed, then this would not be an issue. What ends up happening when you transplant an organ from one genetics to the next, there are identifiers on the surface of the cells— microscopic identifiers, receptors, codes— that the host body detects as foreign and then induces an anti-inflammatory milieu that attacks that organ. And that’s why you have to have immunosuppression with organ donation.

“Now, where it gets kind of interesting, is that there are specific areas in the body that are called immunoprivileged. What this means is that the immune system doesn’t really go there. And the follicle and the follicular unit is an immunoprivileged organ, meaning that the immune response or the anti-inflammatory response of the body to the follicle is not like it would be for the kidney, for the heart, for the lungs. And so in that case, then you would think, ‘Okay, then you should be able to extract the follicle from one person and implant it into another. Because it is an immunoprivileged organ, then the body will not see it as foreign.’

“What complicates that is that when we take out the follicular unit, you have to grab a little piece of the skin around the follicle. The skin is not immunoprivileged. And the skin is what the host body would detect as foreign, and it would then attack that skin that’s around the follicular unit, and the inflammation would decrease the yield and so hence it would not grow to the same yield as it otherwise would.

“If you were to somehow pluck the follicle and get all of the genetic material of the follicular unit so that you’re ensured that it grows without grabbing any part of the skin, which is doable, then theoretically that follicle would then grow.

“So you know, the reason that Iman Shumpert has curly hair is because his follicle is curved as opposed to someone with straight hair, whose follicle is straight. And then when you transplant that follicle in them, the hair that it grows would also be curved.

Dr.-Baubac-HayatdavoudiTrust him, he’s a doctor.

“The biggest issue, quite honestly, is that now, let’s say that somehow someone were able to do that, and grow a follicular unit in another host, the biggest issue is the ethical issue of it, because now you have a hybrid DNA. You have a DNA that is not only the host’s but it also has variations of the donor. So they may have, for example, curly hair with, let’s say if the host is blonde, with maybe blonde hair. Whatever genetic material dominates, the hair will be then different from that host, and it will also be a little bit different than the donor.

“So let me summarize it for you. In summary, the follicular unit is an immunoprivileged organ and, theoretically, if you were to somehow strip away the dermis, the skin, and transplant it with enough possible immunosuppression like steroids or something of that nature, then, theoretically, you would anticipate that that follicle would then grow into the host.

“However, the issues that complicate it are the fact that a piece of the dermis and possibly fatty tissue surrounds the follicular unit, so you get a little bit of fat and a little bit of tissue to then mount an inflammatory response.

“And then the biggest would really be the ethical issue of genetic creation and hybridization. You know, anytime you mess with genetic code, there are ethical issues that come up, and that’s why a lot of the genetics in terms of experimentation have not been conducted thus far is because it’s a big, big dangerous zone where ethics are involved.

“And by ethics I mean, the power to change the genetics of someone is a murky ground for a lot of clinicians and researchers because we are our genetic material. When that changes, we don’t know what will happen.

“In short, it would be possible, I guess. But you know, with those various things that I mentioned, sort of road bumps along the way.

“This specific study, what you’re asking, no one would really do, at least in the United States. It’s the ethical consideration of it. The study would probably not get approved by the review committee before you could conduct it in the United States. But other places may have done it.”

Get all that? We let it run long because we thought Dr. H had a lot of interesting things to say (and frankly, we didn’t know where to cut without messing up his flow and narrative). Turns out we stumbled into a complex subject with a lot of fun sci-fi type elements and ethical dilemmas.

Oh, and speaking of Iman Shumpert, looks like he just tweaked his hairstyle for the summer!