Illustrated portrait of Ali Sadat
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Mom knows best. When Ali Sadat was in middle school and high school, his mother kept him on an “extremely tight leash,” he recalls. He passed his afternoons doing homework in the back office of the Vacaville, Calif., dental practice where she worked.

Today, he heads Retrace Labs, a San Francisco-based company he founded that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to process dental insurance claims, slash office overhead, and speed payouts to patients and practitioners. Launched in 2016 with backing from Sadat’s friends and family, Retrace later received $18 million in funding from Intel Capital and SoftBank Ventures. Sadat, the company’s CEO, expects the number of dental practices using Retrace to soon balloon from 1,800 to 14,000 and projects a positive cash flow for 2022.

“My adolescent experience was a real eye-opener into today’s challenges. Moving into the profession gave me the technical insights and know-how to solve today’s problems,” says Sadat. That and his multifaceted education, which includes degrees in technology management and bioengineering.

While Retrace faces competition, Sadat says his firm is the only software company to take a holistic approach to the claims process. Dentists using Retrace send insurers X-rays and supporting materials to document a proposed procedure. Then its AI algorithm compares that data to millions of other cases insurers have approved. When the patient arrives for the procedure, the dentist knows their payout and the patient knows their out-of-pocket cost. Insurance company proceeds arrive immediately. “No surprise bills in the mail,” says Sadat.

He marvels at his lifelong connection to UCSF. As an eighth grader, he spent three days there while his mother took dental assistant tests. Even at that age, he knew that a UCSF professor had co-founded the biotech giant Genentech.

Years later, in his UCSF application essay, Sadat wrote that his life’s goal was “to bridge the gap between the benchtop and the bedside.” His mentor was Joel White, DDS. Now a professor emeritus, White was “the original big data and dentistry guy” who played a pivotal role in laying the foundation of today’s work in AI and dentistry, says Sadat.

“If I had been anywhere but UCSF, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says. “My mother is incredibly thankful things ended up working out.”

– George Spencer for UCSF Magazine

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