This is a huge win for all of us who want to stay healthy without having to always spend money going to the doctor’s office.
A group of Canadian engineering students have been named the winners of this year’s James Dyson Award, being recognized for their device that detects skin cancer without the need for a traditional biopsy. The McMaster University students developed the Skan device as a way to quickly and easily detect melanoma in its early stages–when diagnosed early enough, melanoma is virtually harmless.
According to the team, 37 people in the UK alone are diagnosed with melanoma every day. The students explained the need for their device saying: “Early diagnostic methods rely heavily on visual inspections, which are inaccurate. More advanced methods are time consuming and expensive, adding avoidable strain to already over-burdened health services….In the UK one to 10 skin cancers are diagnosed in the late stage, however, it can take a number of weeks to see a specialist. Those who do not go through biopsy procedures run the risk of missed detection.”
As an alternative to the usual method of taking a biopsy, the team of students proposed that diagnosis could be made using a non-invasive device that is simply placed on top of the skin. The device then applies a cooling sensation to the area through a series of thermistors and records how fast the skin takes to return to its normal temperature. The results are fed back to a computer and displayed as a heat map and a time plot that shows how long different areas of the skin took to heat back up.
“Cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal cells, and as such – they release more heat,” said the team. “This means that after a thermal shock is applied, the cancerous tissue will regain heat more quickly than the non-cancerous tissue, indicating a strong likelihood of melanoma.” The combination of these results would show the presence, or lack of presence, of melanoma.
The team claims that their Skan device will cost 80% less than the non-invasive option of thermal imaging. James Dyson made a statement about the winners saying, “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.”