The Guardian: P.E.I. start-up targets body piercing risks with new technology

The wheels began to turn in Norman Silber’s brain when his daughter Michaella complained about an infected pierced ear in 2002. She wondered aloud why the needles in piercing guns weren’t designed to dispense anti-infective medicine from the inside out.

Fifteen years later, Michaella’s idea for an antiseptic delivery vehicle is becoming a reality thanks to a partnership with UPEI researchers.

Silber is a professor of law at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and a summer resident of P.E.I. He shared his daughter’s brainstorm with long-time friend and cardiologist Mark Nathan, and the three came up with a design to minimize infection, deformities and pain in human piercing.

“We essentially integrated my daughter’s idea of injecting slow-release antiseptics or other agents at the time of piercing with proven technology used by cardiologists,” explained Silber. 

In 2016, they launched a start-up called BioPierce Canada Ltd., based in Souris.

Working in collaboration with UPEI’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering, they’re now developing the first-of-its-kind technology.

According to some studies, 35 per cent of people with pierced ears had one or more complications — ranging from localized infections or skin reactions to bacterial infections, traumatic tears and even viral hepatitis — and 15 per cent required some professional attention.

The BioPierce invention is inspired by the technology used by cardiologists when inserting stents. By customizing a 3-D printer, the researchers are working to print small tissue scaffolds or “medicated sleeves” from gel-like biomaterials that slowly degrade in the body. The sleeves are applied to a piercing instrument and, once inside human tissue, start to release active substances to promote healing, reduce pain and deter infection.

Silber said the invention also has the potential to reduce infection and promote healing when animals — including domestic pets, livestock and wildlife — undergo tagging or microchip implantation.

UPEI assistant professor Ali Ahmadi is supervising the researchers and said one of their primary challenges is to ensure the device is versatile enough to work with more than one type of piercing instrument.

“The overall idea is that there is a pin or stud that enters the body and we are essentially covering that pin with a drug-emitting biomaterial,” said Ahmadi. “The idea is to print on-demand according to exact specifications of the piercing instrument.”

The first BioPierce prototypes are expected to be ready for field-testing this winter, using a biomaterial already approved by Health Canada for other applications.

The company is working with consultants to determine which applications to target first.

Silber says BioPierce Canada aims to have its first product commercially available in three or four years.