Four engineering undergraduates at McMaster University, Canada, set out to tackle the problem of melanoma diagnosis. Their solution, the sKan, is a cheaper, easy to use diagnostic system that could save lives through early detection, while also saving health services valuable time and money. Their work to date has garnered them the $50,000 James Dyson Award, which will allow the team to develop their idea.
Cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal cells. As such, they release more heat. This means that after a thermal shock is applied (for example, via an ice pack), the cancerous tissue will regain heat more quickly than the non-cancerous tissue, indicating a strong likelihood of melanoma.
While non-invasive, thermal imaging techniques for melanoma diagnosis exist, these are expensive as they use high resolution thermal imaging cameras. Current melanoma detection devices can cost upwards of $50,000. The anticipated cost of the sKan is less than $1,000.
James Dyson 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 as this year’s international winner”.
Dr. Raimond Wong, Chairman of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Site Group at the Juravinski Cancer Centre says: “Current methods of detecting whether a lesion is melanoma or not is through the trained eyes of physicians – resulting in patients undergoing unnecessary surgery or late detection of melanoma. The sKan has the potential to be a low cost, easy to use and effective device, which can be afforded and adopted across health services. “
In Canada, melanoma is one of the 10 most common cancers diagnosed.[i] When diagnosed and treated early, melanoma is usually curable, but the disease still claims thousands of lives every year. In Canada alone, an estimated 1,250 lives are lost to melanoma, annually. That’s 3.4 deaths every day.

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