Two South Asians in McMaster University students’ team that won international award for low-cost skin cancer detection device

A team of medical and bioengineering undergraduates from Canada’s McMaster University in Ontario have been chosen as the international James Dyson Award 2017 winners. Their design solution, the sKan, is a low cost and non-invasive melanoma detection device, the James Dyson Foundation has announced.

The sKan was chosen as the international winner by James Dyson who 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 at this year’s international winner.”

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The team comprises Prateek Mathur and Shivad Bhavsar, both 23, along with Rotimi Fadiya, 22, and Michael Takla, 23.

According to the foundation, annually, skin cancer accounts for 1 in every 3 cancer diagnoses. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is approximately 98 percent. Current melanoma detection methods either rely on a visual inspection, or need a specialist’s opinion which is time consuming and costly. With high numbers of patients needing a rapid diagnosis to begin treatment, the health services are at maximum capacity. The sKan poses a viable solution.

Research shows that cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal tissue cells. When an area of interest on the skin is rapidly cooled, cancerous tissue will regain heat at a faster rate than non-cancerous tissue.

The sKan uses accurate and inexpensive temperature sensors to pinpoint areas of tissue that gain heat quicker than the surrounding area of skin. The results of this are displayed as a heat map and temperature difference time plot on using a regular computer.

A medical professional can use the quantitative findings produced by the sKan to indicate whether the patient needs to be referred for further investigation or not.

The team plans to use the USD 40,000 prize money to reiterate and refine their design to ensure it passes the US Food and Drug Administration’s standards.