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October 2018

PEI start-up takes aim at the risks of piercings

At a glance
The team

Dr. Ali Ahmadi, School of Sustainable Design Engineering, in collaboration with BioPierce Canada Ltd.

The challenge

Up to 30% of ear or body piercings become infected

The solution

Develop a mechanism to prevent infections in piercings

The outcome

A biodegradable “sleeve” that protects the wearer from infection

What's next

Field-testing of the prototype. Commercializing the sleeve and printer system on the consumer and medical markets

Norman Silber doesn’t believe that beauty must be painful. At least, not since his daughter, Michaella, thought of a better solution for healing her infected pierced ear as a young teen. During a family road trip years ago, she was struggling with cotton swabs, alcohol, and ointments to clean her ear piercings in the back of the car. Michaella proposed that someone should make the piercing studs with medications or antiseptics loaded inside of them so that treatment would be much less complicated.

Norman called up his friend Mark Nathan, a cardiologist. 

“We put our heads together to develop the concept further,” said Dr. Nathan. “We were inspired by the idea of a cardiac stent, which is a sterile device used in heart surgery to allow arterial blood flow in patients with heart disease. Stents are different in all the important respects from what we had in mind, however; as with stents, we wanted to create sleeve-like scaffolds that can wrap around a stud, contain and release effective medication, dissolve predictably, and disappear.”

With a working concept in development, the Silbers and Dr. Nathan applied for a patent and incorporated as BioPierce Canada.

However, further research was needed to develop the technology. In search of the right partner, they engaged the help of BioEnterprise Corporation and the PEI BioAlliance’s Emergence Incubator, which connected them to Professor Ali Ahmadi at the University of Prince Edward Island’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering.

Knowing that the fledgling start-up wanted to get started on the research quickly, Dr. Ahmadi suggested that he could assemble a team of graduate student interns — funded by Mitacs — to design and produce a non-toxic, biodegradable “sleeve” for use in piercings.

The non-toxic wrap, which contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, is designed to be inserted over the jewelry during the piercing procedure or soon afterwards. The sleeve protects the wearer from infection during the first weeks of healing, and then naturally degrades over time.

The team has developed a custom 3-D printer to produce the sleeve prototype, and now is refining the technology with an eye towards launching it on the medical and cosmetic markets in the next few years. This next phase of development will also be supported through collaborations with Mitacs-funded researchers.

For BioPierce Canada, Mitacs provided access to talent at a key moment in the company’s evolution.

“Mitacs was crucial,” says Norman. “It’s been a terrific springboard for us that has allowed us to fund the development of the prototype, backed by the expertise of Dr. Ahmadi and his team. When we met Dr. Ahmadi we weren’t ready to look for the next round of investment funding; Mitacs helped us bridge that gap by allowing us to develop a product that we can take to investors.  Eventually, we’ll have something we can put on the market.”

What about Norman’s daughter, Michaella?

Though she’s no longer a teenager, she is optimistic about the progress BioPierce is making and looks forward to the day when millions of people with piercings can avoid unnecessary suffering. She says, “Piercings should be fun, but of course they always should be taken seriously.  We have found a better technology that will improve the piercing experience.” 

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Prince Edward Island for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Saskatchewan, the Government of Quebec, and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: