Entertainment meets digital dentistry
This year’s congress of the European Association for Osseointegration (EAO) saw a number of lectures from fields other than dentistry too. For instance, Swiss scientist Thabo Beeler presented the results of his research on digitising humans at Disney Research Zurich’s Computer Graphics Laboratory. In an interview with Dental Tribune Online, Beeler explained how new technologies for digital facial reconstruction, which were originally developed for the entertainment industry, can be used in the medical field.
Dental Tribune Online: As head of the Capture and Effects Group at Disney Research Zurich, you are a rather exceptional lecturer at this congress. How did you become involved with the EAO?
Thabo Beeler: We work closely with ETH Zurich (the Swiss federal institute of technology), specifically the Computer Graphics Laboratory. The laboratory is headed by Prof. Markus Gross, who is also the Director of Disney Research Zurich, and the laboratory has a long history in virtual patient simulation. About one and a half years ago, various doctors reached out to us for our scanning technology, as the topic of the virtual patient is gaining importance.
Together with Prof. Irena Sailer from the University of Geneva and Prof. Heinz-Theo Lübbers, who was then working at the University Hospital Zurich, we started a project aimed at evaluating whether and how our research could be used in medicine.
I was then invited to present these results at the EAO congress in Stockholm. I felt a bit like the black sheep in the crowd, but I was very pleased to meet many people who are open to new technologies from other disciplines.
Digital technologies are increasingly becoming important in medicine. How does the work done by Disney Research help support this development?
What excites me as a researcher is creating a digital human, a one-to-one copy of the real human, in order to work with it virtually.
Many technologies used in medicine are very similar to ours. Scanning and capturing a face for a film or for a virtual patient animation is basically the same.
Other presentations on the topic of the virtual patient at the conference stated that optimally all means of 3-D capture should be used. The key is to combine all information obtained from digital surface or dental scans into one virtual patient. This is the only way to simulate all processes. However, it will take some time for the current generation to recognise the potential of digital technologies, whereas 3-D will be an ordinary thing for future generations who grow up with these technologies.
What technologies do you use for 3-D reconstruction of facial structures?
The human eye is extremely perceptive with regard to facial structures. From birth, we observe faces and social communication is highly influenced by the smallest details in the face. Therefore, our research group tries with the utmost care to capture these details. Again, the same applies to the medical field in that medical researchers strive to create the most exact reproductions.
There are a number of techniques available, depending on what one wants to achieve. I use photogrammetry, a technology that uses at least two slightly displaced images of the same object and combines them into one 3-D image on the computer. This technology has the great advantage of being inexpensive and not requiring any high technological knowledge—everybody knows how to take a photograph. Therefore, I see a promising future for it.
In your opinion, which medical fields could benefit most from this technology?
Ultimately, the possibilities are almost limitless. This technology can be applied to surgical planning and to monitoring the healing process. Of course, clinical diagnostic tools, such as radiographs and CT scans, will continue to play an essential role in the capture of internal structures. However, once one has a complete dataset of a patient, one has greater independence in the virtual world to plan surgeries and maybe ultimately perform surgeries from by the computer—who knows?