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3D model of teeth by Leuven start-up should make work easier for dentists

23 August 2021

The Leuven start-up Relu developed artificial intelligence to visualize the anatomy of jaws, teeth and nerves through a 3D model. It raised 1.5 million euros in investment.


'Initially we wanted to turn the world of dubbed film on its head,' says 25-year-old Holger Willems, the CEO and one of the four founders of the Leuven start-up Relu. In classic dubbing, voices of actors and actresses are replaced by other voices. Except that the mouth of a French-speaking Brad Pitt never moves along nicely.

Using technology comparable to the algorithms that make deepfakes possible, Relu wanted to make Pitt's mouth and other actors' voices move in sync with the dubbed voice. 'That turned out to be more difficult than we thought. Maybe we were a little too early for that idea," Willems says.

A professor of dental imaging at KU Leuven informed the four engineers that the technology did come in handy in her field. Dentists and jaw specialists use CBCT scans - a 3D X-ray - to determine what treatment a patient needs. Based on that scan, a specialist makes a detailed drawing of the anatomy.

'That's a very time-consuming activity,' says Willems. Relu trained his AI model that makes 3D models of the jaws, teeth, skull, sinuses and even the jaw nerves based on those same CBCT scans. Those various models are assembled into what Relu calls "the virtual patient. The result is a detailed 3D model that gives dentists, orthodontists and jaw specialists a perfect picture of what the mouth looks like. That process takes a few seconds.

Initially, Relu is offering the technology to oral surgeons, but it plans to use it for orthodontics later. 'The 3D model can help orthodontists better estimate where and how to place a block brace,' says Willems. The intention is to later develop applications in all dental fields such as oral surgery and implantology. 'Eventually we hope to build a customer base that includes 3D scanner manufacturers, dentists and dental technicians.'

With the 1.5 million euro investment by the Flemish investment company PMV, KBC, VLAIO and business angels, Relu wants to continue to grow as quickly as possible. By the end of the year it wants to hire eight employees, not counting the four founders. Initially, Relu needs additional computer scientists. 'But we are also looking for someone who knows medical legislation well. The strong regulation in that sector is a challenge for us.'

Source: De Tijd, translated by Leuven MindGate
Picture: copyright Relu

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