Skin cancer-detecting device wins 2017 James Dyson award


"It's a very clever device", said James Dyson.

Globally, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and while you might assume that its appearance on the outside of the body makes it easy to spot, it still results in tens of thousands of deaths every year. "This is why I have selected it as this year's worldwide victor".

As with many cancers, early detection is vital to effective treatment, with 5-year survival rates in the USA dropping from 98% to 62% when the cancer reaches the Lymph nodes, and down to 18% when the cancer reaches distant organs.

Current early diagnostic methods for melanoma rely on visual inspections, which are inaccurate, or more advanced method which is time consuming or expensive. With high numbers of patients needing a rapid diagnosis to begin treatment, the health services are at maximum capacity.

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Research shows that cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal tissue cells. After a period of cooling, skin affected by cancer cells will more rapidly warm up, due to cancer's high metabolism, than non-cancerous skin cells. sKan uses low-priced yet accurate temperature sensors to locate rapidly heating areas of skin, shining a spotlight on potentially cancerous cells.

When the cells experience thermal shock - such as when an icepack is placed on the skin - cancerous tissue will regain heat more quickly than the non-cancerous tissue, indicating a strong likelihood of melanoma. Using an array of thermistors - known as a transducer - the device is able to convert heat differences into electronic signals, and create a heat map of a person's skin after being cooled. 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. "We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity", said the sKan team on its win.

In doing so the device helps solve the problem of current high-performance 3D printing tools wasting large amounts of material. This year that include the Atropos, a 3D-printing robotic arm created to reduce the amount of waste material, and the Twistlight, a device that uses LED lights to guide needles right into the vein to reduce the amount of misses.

However, the Twistlight can be used single handed so the other hand can be used to undo the vein strap, tension the skin and fix the catheter in place when pulling out the steel stylet. Multiple discarded attempts cause patient pain and waste medical materials.