The idea behind the sKan device is that after human skin has been cooled, cancerous lesions warm back up again more quickly than normal skin. Their higher temperature should be detectable with a heat scanner.

The idea behind the sKan device is that after human skin has been cooled, cancerous lesions warm back up again more quickly than normal skin. Their higher temperature should be detectable with a heat scanner.
Photo Credit: James Dyson Foundation

Cancer detection: Canadian team wins international award

The best inventions are effective, simple in design, easy to use, and being simple, not prohibitively expensive.

That’s what a team of recent electrical biomedical engineering graduates of McMaster University students have come up with. They developed a concept for quick, simple technology for early detection of skin cancer.

The device beat out 20 finalists from a group of competitors around the world for the James Dyson Award for Design Engineering, worth $50,000.

The sKan team members, left to right, Prateek Mathur, Shivad Bhavsa, Rotimi Fadiya, and, far right, Michael Takla meet with inventor James Dyson, who is second from right, after winning this year’s James Dyson Award.
The sKan team members, left to right, Prateek Mathur, Shivad Bhavsa, Rotimi Fadiya, and, far right, Michael Takla meet with inventor James Dyson, who is second from right, after winning this year’s James Dyson Award. © James Dyson Foundation

A major factor in the award was that the device could save thousands of lives through early detection of skin cancers.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that this year over 7,000 people in Canada alone will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and over 1,000 will die.

The Hamilton students concept is based on the knowledge that cancer cells, in this case melanoma or skin cancer, are more active than normal cells and thus generate more heat. Thus, if the skin was cooled, the cancerous lesions would warm back up faster than surrounding skin or non-cancerous moles.  It is this discrepancy that can be detected.

The idea behind the sKan device is that after human skin has been cooled, cancerous lesions warm back up again more quickly than normal skin. Their higher temperature should be detectable with a heat scanner.
The idea behind the sKan device is that after human skin has been cooled, cancerous lesions warm back up again more quickly than normal skin. Their higher temperature should be detectable with a heat scanner. © James Dyson Foundation

The team therefore developed a simple scanner that would detect the warmer spots. The idea in itself isn’t radical or new, as infrared cameras (dynamic thermal imaging) can do similar tests as shown in a John Hopkins University study in 2011 but the cost and complexity are greater than the McMaster students device.

Their hand-held scanner, which they’ve called san, came about as their final year project, It involves several very inexpensive thermistors arranged in a grid and placed in a simple handheld scanner.

An innocent mole or skin cancer? Doctors visually inspect suspected cases and cancer is confirmed or ruled out with a painful biopsy, which involves cutting out a piece of the skin, The sKan could greatly reduce the number of unecessary biopsies, while also detecting actual lesions much earlier.
An innocent mole or skin cancer? Doctors visually inspect suspected cases and cancer is confirmed or ruled out with a painful biopsy, which involves cutting out a piece of the skin, The sKan could greatly reduce the number of unecessary biopsies, while also detecting actual lesions much earlier. © The Canadian Press

Although this early prototype is not yet refined quite well enough to detect the slight temperature discrepancies of melanoma, the idea for the simple low-cost device is valid.

Team members said the award money will be used to further refine the device to increase its sensitivity.

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One comment on “Cancer detection: Canadian team wins international award
  1. catherine says:

    Yes, Skan was created by four university graduates from McMaster University in Canada after the students embarked on a mission to find a better way to detect melanoma, a form of skin cancer. It works by using various thermistors, which are cheaper compared to technology currently used in labs and hospitals and also hold much higher accuracy in temperature sensor.