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Handheld skin cancer detector wins James Dyson engineering award


sKan: James Dyson Award winner 2017

A team of medical and bioengineering undergraduates from McCaster University in Canada have been awarded the James Dyson Award 2017 for their low-cost, non-invasive skin cancer detector. The device, called sKan, uses widely available and inexpensive components to find melanoma using heat detection technology.

Cancerous tissue regains heat quicker than non-cancerous tissue, so skin cancer can be detected by cooling the skin and then scanning and monitoring it as it returns to room temperature. Though technology already exists to map these heat changes, it uses highly expensive cameras to produce thermal images, and can cost between $10,000–$250,000. The students’ invention instead uses a grid of temperature sensors to convert electrical signals into thermal readings, which are plotted on a heat map using a “regular computer” – doing the same job but predicted to market at closer to $1000.

Skin cancer accounts for a third of cancer diagnoses every year. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is around 98%. Currently diagnoses are based on visual inspection or these more specialised methods, which are time-consuming and costly, says the team. It believes the sKan device could pose a “viable solution”.

James Dyson said the winning design’s reduced cost and use of available technology “allows for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many. It’s a very clever device with the potential to save lives around the world.”

The team will be awarded $40,000 to refine their design to ensure it passes the US Food and Drug Administration’s standards.


sKan: James Dyson Award winner 2017


sKan: James Dyson Award winner 2017