Now, a startup based in Canadian province Prince Edward Island (PEI) is using 3D printing technology to reduce the risk of these infections, and to make body piercing safer as a whole.
BioPierce Canada Ltd. is developing a biodegradable sleeve that will battle infection from the inside – it will be used to cover piercing posts and release antiseptics slowly over a longer period of time. The original idea came about over a decade ago when the then-12-year-old daughter of Norman Silber, the startup’s founder and a Hofstra University law professor, was using cotton swabs and antibiotics to treat her own ear piercing infection.
“In the back seat of the car she got quite irritated and wondered out loud why, when they pierced your ears, the posts didn’t have a design which allowed them to dispense the anti infective medicine from the inside coming out,” Silber explained. “And I thought that was really quite interesting, and essentially followed up on it.”
He contacted his friend Mark Nathan, a cardiologist, and the two began working to develop their current design, which was inspired by the technology used in cardiac stents; they launched the startup last year.
Silber said, “We’re driven by the possibility that we might really make a difference in making … something that’s a universal custom — which is piercing — into something that’s much safer than it has been.”
Silber and Nathan have applied for a provisional patent, and BioPierce Canada Ltd. is now working with not-for-profit research organization Mitacs and researchers with the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) School of Sustainable Design Engineering, including assistant professor Ali Ahmadi, to develop a design prototype. This is where 3D printing comes into play – Ahmadi and his students are designing the biodegradable sleeves themselves, which will be 3D printed out of biomaterials and designed to interact with biological systems, and also the microbeads inside the sleeve that will be injected with antiseptics.
“As it biodegrades, it’s going to release these drugs over time into the body, and prevent that future infection. So to visualize it, it would look like a sleeve that would go around that stud or pin that is inserted into the body” Ahmadi explained.
“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. The idea is to print on-demand according to exact specifications of the piercing instrument.
We have seen 3D printing combined with drug release technology before, with 3D printed implants that emit cancer drugs and even 3D printed micro rockets that deliver drugs within the human body. But the body piercing sleeve, which Ahmadi says is basically “pockets of drugs,” is a novel method that could also potentially have applications in microchipping pets and tagging livestock.
Ahmadi said, “The application of this technology and this project in the short term may be to piercing technology, but I see the potential application go beyond that.”
The 3D printed medicated biomaterial sleeves, which are essentially small tissue scaffolds, are made out of poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid (or PLGA), a Health Canada-approved substance; then, these sleeves can be applied directly to piercing instruments and will remain in the tissue once it’s been pierced. The sleeves will degrade slowly over a period of time, while active substances are released, encouraging healing, reducing pain, and warding off infection.
Silber said, “The original concept was to reduce the rate of infection significantly, but it has blossomed from there to include novel ornamental possibilities in humans.”
Ahmadi supervises the Mitacs researchers as they work on BioPierce Canada’s innovative technology, with a goal of ensuring the device’s versatility across multiple piercing instruments and industries that use these instruments on a regular basis. He says that both he and his students are excited to be working together to commercialize “a groundbreaking piercing technology.”
“We’re collaborating with industry to solve real problems. Our graduate students gain valuable, real-world training with the added benefit of knowing they’re helping to make a difference in the world,” Ahmadi said.
The first prototypes should be ready by this winter for field testing, and the startup hopes to have its first product commercially available in less than five years.
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