x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hold that face without trying

Saloon James Newman's REX machine looks like something out of an old science fiction movie. He swears it will smooth your troubles out, Sarah Wolff reports.

Dave, I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do: wrinkles.
Dave, I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do: wrinkles.

James Newman's REX machine looks like something out of an old science fiction movie. He swears it will smooth your troubles out, Sarah Wolff reports.

On a recent Thursday, Dr James Newman, a US-based cosmetic surgeon, took the stage at Dubai's Al Bustan Rotana to hawk his REX machine. His audience? Other doctors, hailing from Singapore to San Francisco. Their customers? People looking to get rid of their crows' feet, laugh lines and forehead creases - but perhaps wary of Botox, also known as Botulinum Toxin Type A, the famous neurotoxic protein that has been injected into over four million faces around the world in the last decade.

"There have been problems where people have injected too much Botox," Newman explains. "What happens is you get kind of a frozen look so you can't move any of your muscles or you get a droopiness of the eyelids. Botox lasts for about three to four months in most people, and those who have been over-toxed can do nothing except wait it out." REX stands for Relaxed Expression, and the machine looks much like a personal computer circa 1985 with a large, blunt probe attached to it by a cord. Newman demonstrates its effectiveness with help from an uncooked hotdog, into which he inserts the probe, quick-cooking the frank in one tiny, but visible, spot.

He explains what he is doing by analogy to a lamp. Nerve cells start with a nucleus, then continue out into long, spaghetti-like fibers and end with branches connected directly to muscle. Newman describes Botox as "like screwing a lightbulb out"; REX, on the other hand, targets the cord between the wall and the lamp. Are you reassured yet? "With REX, what we are doing is taking that cord and we are squeezing it or twisting it and preventing the conduction of electricity to that lightbulb," Newman elaborates. "But it's not permanently killing the lightbulb, because if we let go of the electrical cord, the source of electricity is still there."

So, when Newman jabbed the hot dog, he was demonstrating REX's supposed ability to insert little nicks into the human skin and delivery temporarily damaging heat to nerve fibers. Once they can't communicate to the muscle, the patient becomes unable to make strong facial gestures that can cause wrinkles. The technology is actually as old as the REX machine looks - intentional nerve damage of this sort has been used in cardiac surgery for three decades - but the idea of using it to freeze frown lines is novel. "We looked a bit closer at the problem," Newman boasts. "Relaxed Expressions allows the patient to get at least a longer-term relief of a specific problem. Then they can focus on other procedures."

At around $1,500 a pop, the treatment isn't cheap, but it still costs less than a year of Botox shots, which run around $800 per session and last only one-fourth as long. Newman also suggests REX recipients have a social-minded reason to feel good about their investment. "The cosmetic patients are kind of helping us learn more about things that would help other people who really need it," he says, noting that nerve treatment procedures can help people who have difficulty moving their limbs. "You can understand what a person with cerebral palsy goes through. If you help those people, it would be wonderful."

swolff@thenational.ae