The sKan Wins 2017 James Dyson Award

This year’s 2017 International James Dyson Award was recently given to four Canadian medical and bioengineering graduates for their skin cancer detecting device, the sKan. Michael Takla, Rotimi Fadiya, Prateek Mathur, and Shivad Bhavsar from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada won the coveted award, along with $30,000 to create a new prototype of their invention that can continue on through pre-clinical trials. The James Dyson Award, created and awarded by Dyson company founder and Chief Engineer, James Dyson (and his foundation), follows an annual competition open to recent university or design graduates across the world.1 The sKan is a non-invasive, handheld, and low cost device that could possibly aid in the detection of melanoma. The sKan also has the potential to be a much more accessible and inexpensive option for melanoma detection as well.

The temparature of cancer cells

The four graduates created a device that could detect temperature differences in an individual’s skin. Cancerous cells are growing and dividing rapidly, giving them a higher metabolic rate. With a higher metabolic rate comes an increase in temperature. Therefore, cells that are experiencing rapid growth and development, such as cancer cells, may be warmer than those that are healthy or experiencing slower, more normal growth. The students theorized that when tissue, such as the skin, is cooled and allowed to re-heat, cancer cells will warm faster than healthy cells due to this property. The sKan is then used to detect cells that reach higher temperatures faster than others, indicating that skin cancer, specifically melanoma, may be present in a particular area.

Showing potential melanoma locations

More specifically, inexpensive and highly accurate temperature sensors, called thermistors, are used in the sKan. The temperature readings from the thermistors are then processed by an algorithm that creates a heat map. Irregularities on the heat map can show potential locations of melanoma. Further, the sKan’s anticipated cost is about $1,000, which is much cheaper than other detection methods that exist and use thermal imaging. Many of these other thermal imaging devices can cost around $30,000, making the sKan a much more accessible detection option for individuals at risk for melanoma.

Who should be trying the sKan?

Since early detection is critical for successful treatment of melanoma, the students suggest targeting individuals who should be sent for a skin biopsy to try the sKan. The winners will use the $30,000 awarded to continue the sKan’s development and to pursue further testing. When deciding to choose the sKan for his award, James Dyson noted that it was a “very clever device with the potential to save lives around the world.”2

James Dyson award details

The award has been given out since 2002, and asks competitors to “design something that solves a problem.”1 There is one grand prize at the international level granted each year, however, other prizes are awarded at the national and international levels. The top international prize, won this year by the creators of sKan, is awarded after multiple rounds of competition, judged by regional design and engineering professionals, members of the Dyson engineering team, and finally, by James Dyson. The competition is open to individuals from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States who have graduated within the past four years. Teams, like the one that created sKan, are allowed to compete as well.

Last year’s James Dyson Award at the international level was given to Isis Shiffer, for her invention of the EcoHelmet, a folding, recyclable bicycle helmet made of paper.

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