The sKan that detects cancer

A team of final year university students won the prestigious James Dyson Award thanks to an undoubtedly economical device that can identify melanoma, a type of skin cancer

Written Wednesday, by Emanuele Mortarotti

Welcome back to the Dispotech blog! Today we are speaking about sKan, a new medical device that could revolutionise the medical sector and save the lives of many people, as skin cancer is the most common form of cancer today.

Detecting skin cancer quickly is not easy. Currently, it can be detected by using dedicated machinery or through biopsy: while some doctors might not immediately discover the disease using the first method, some patients might not be able to afford the second. Beginning with this assumption, a team of final year students at McMaster University (Canada) decided to develop an affordable device able to detect skin cancer. The young men’s innovative project won the prestigious international James Dyson Award, whose purpose is to celebrate the most courageous and interesting ideas in design engineering each year, focusing exclusively on youth.

Cancer usually attacks the metabolic rate of epidermal cells, with cancerous cells which, heating up more quickly than healthy ones, cause a thermal shock. To simplify the identification of these cells, the McMaster University team, composed of Michael Takla, Rotimi Fadiya, Prateek Mathur and Shivad Bhavsar, built a veritable skin cancer detector equipped with 16 thermistors able to map the increased temperature rate following a thermal shock (normally produced by using an ice pack)

Thermistors are simply placed on the area of the skin that is potentially under attack from cancerous cells. It is here that the device produces a heat map which can be used to indicate whether or not melanoma is present. “Using components that are accessible to everyone and above all, affordable, sKan allows for immediate detection of skin cancer. The device is easy to use, and within the reach of non-experts in the field”, affirmed award founder James Dyson in a press release. “This is a very clever device with a great potential to be exported worldwide and save many lives”.

In addition to the abovementioned award, the team of aspiring engineers won a prize of approximately $40,000 to be used in continuing their research. In March 2017, they had already won $5000 in the Forge’s Student Start-up Pitch competition, a contest organised by the Canadian university these talented young men attend.

Team member Prateek Mathur affirmed that his colleagues and he came up with their idea for sKan after realising that technology had not had the same impact on diagnosing skin diseases, as compared to other fields of medicine. He confirms: “We found a study using the thermal properties of cancerous skin tissue as a means for detecting melanoma. As you can imagine, this research was done using extremely expensive equipment in specialised laboratories. We, on the other hand, applied the same research inventing a way to reach the same conclusions using a significantly more affordable solution”. Finally, the sKan team hopes to develop an even more advanced prototype, and is ready to begin preclinical experimenting.

Data regarding people suffering from skin cancer is disconcerting: according to the The Guardian, 37 people are diagnosed with a skin tumour every day in the UK alone. The American Cancer Society (ACS) has, on the other hand, estimated the number of skin cancer cases at 87,110 in 2017 alone, with approximately 9730 persons expected to die due to worsening health conditions.

Early diagnosis is the key to curing the disease: if more people become aware of sKan, the number of people suffering from skin cancer can undoubtedly be reduced. “Our aspirations have become reality”, concludes Mathur. “Skin cancer is the most common form in the world and the mere thought of being able to positively influence the lives of people affected by this disease pushes us to face the challenge head on, in addition to making us proud of ourselves”.

What do you think? If you found this article interesting and you’d like to know more, contact Dispotech, your disposable Excellence.

Emanuele Mortarotti
Author Emanuele Mortarotti

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