The James Dyson Foundation

A team of medical and bioengineering undergraduates from McMaster University, Canada have been chosen as the international James Dyson Award 2017 winners. Their design solution, the sKan, is a low cost and non-invasive melanoma detection device.

The sKan was chosen as the international winner by James Dyson who says “by using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan 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. This is why I have selected it at this year’s international winner.”

Annually, skin cancer accounts for one in every three cancer diagnoses. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is approximately 98 percent. Current melanoma detection methods either rely on a visual inspection, or need a specialist’s opinion which is time consuming and costly. With high numbers of patients needing a rapid diagnosis to begin treatment, the health services are at maximum capacity. The sKan poses a viable solution.

Research shows that cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal tissue cells. When an area of interest on the skin is rapidly cooled, cancerous tissue will regain heat at a faster rate than non-cancerous tissue. The sKan uses accurate and inexpensive temperature sensors to pinpoint areas of tissue that gain heat quicker than the surrounding area of skin. The results of this are displayed as a heat map and temperature difference time plot on using a regular computer. A medical professional can use the quantitative findings produced by the sKan to indicate whether the patient needs to be referred for further investigation or not.

“We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity,” says the sKan team. The team plans to use the $40,000 prize money to reiterate and refine their design to ensure it passes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standards.

The international James Dyson Award runners up are Atropos and Twistlight. Atropos is a 6-axis 3D printing robotic arm that uses continuous fiber composites material, to produce high-performance objects. The designers, Gabriele Natale and Michele Tonizzo, hope to tackle the amount of waste produced by current high performance 3-D printing tools. Twistlight, designed by Tina Zimmer, uses LED lights to make veins appear highly contrasted within their surrounding dermal tissue. The light can be used to easily insert needles and catheters into a patient’s skin.  Despite being the most common medical procedure, 33 percent of first vein puncture attempts fail. Multiple discarded attempts cause patient pain and waste medical materials.