Four students from McMaster University, Canada recently won this year’s James Dyson Award for the handheld melanoma skin cancer detection device they created. Named the sKan, the device earned the students the prestige of being a Dyson International Winner along with cash prizes of $40,000 for themselves and $6,000 for their university department.
The award is named after Sir James Dyson, who is known for the innovative technological advances he’s made over the past two decades, and is intended to encourage more young people to study and pursue design engineering.
The award is highly competitive with three judging stages. When entries are first submitted, they are reviewed by a local panel of design and engineering professionals who choose one national winner and up to four national finalists from their region. These entries are then reviewed by Dyson design engineers who select the Top 20 finalists. Dyson himself then steps in to review the Top 20 projects to pick the international winner and two international runners-up.
There were more than 1,000 entries from 23 countries this year. The sKan was selected by Dyson as the international winner because “by using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan allows for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many,” he said in a statement. “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.”
This award has opened up doors to further the development and research of The sKan.
The students — Michael Takla, Rotimi Fadiya, Prateek Mathur and Shivad Bhavsar — developed the sKan, which is low cost and noninvasive, as a final year engineering class project.
They chose to tackle melanoma because they found a lack of low-cost technology to aid in the process of melanoma detection. Once they found previous research to back up a thermal technology, they set out to create the handheld device.
“We set out to apply the research and invent a way of performing the same assessment using a more cost-effective solution,” Mathur said in a statement.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer that kills an estimated 10,130 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. While melanoma can often be cured if caught and treated early, it can become invasive — advancing and spreading to other parts of the body — which makes it harder to treat and can even result in death.
“Melanoma is easily treated if detected early, yet it still claims thousands of lives around the world annually, accounting for 80 percent of skin cancer deaths,” said Takla.
The device is based on research that indicates differences in thermal properties between people with melanoma and healthy skin.
The device uses up to 16 temperature-sensitive components called thermistors that look for areas of significant temperature difference on the skin. By creating a thermal map on the region of interest of the skin, the sKan is able to assist physicians and the average patient in detecting the early risk of melanoma.
“The device consists of a grid of temperature sensors that map out the heat activity in the area of the skin that contains the lesion,” said Bhavsar. “The data is transferred to a program which assesses the risk of cancer by examining the significance of the temperature differences detected.”
Until now, diagnosis methods for melanoma were qualitative only, and based solely on visual inspection. The sKan device presents an affordable alternative to provide quantitative information about skin spots, so physicians can detect if a biopsy is appropriate for their patients.
“The sKan is designed to be a low-cost device that aims to fill the gap in the melanoma diagnosis process by providing a quantitative assessment,” said Fadiya. “It aims to increase the detection of melanomas at an earlier stage, reducing fatal cases. At the same time it will work to reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies.”
The team was able to develop the device using knowledge from their undergraduate engineering studies, as well as help from McMaster faculty: Hubert deBruin, co-director of Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences; Michael Noseworthy, director of the School of Biomedical Engineering; and Raimond Wong, associate professor in the Department of Oncology.
In addition to the Dyson Award, the team won 10,000 Canadian dollars for the sKan at the Forge@MAC Student Startup Competition 2017 in March.
The team’s next step is to create a new prototype that will bring them to a pre-clinical testing phase.