An affordable and effective device for detecting skin cancer has picked up an award of £30,000 ($40,000) from Britain’s best-known inventor.
This year’s James Dyson prize for engineering was given to a group of four Canadian graduates, for their sKan system.
The gadget picks up on subtle changes in the skin’s ability to retain heat, which can indicate the presences of cancerous tissue.
The device costs £760 ($1,000), compared with the £20,000 ($26,000) for high-resolution thermal imaging cameras.
A team of medical and bioengineering undergraduates from McCaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are behind the non-invasive medical marvel.
The device was chosen as international winner by inventor James Dyson, who made his name with his range of cyclonic separation vacuum cleaners.
About the project, Sir James said: ‘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.’
The winning team says it plans to use the prize money to reiterate and refine their design, to ensure it passes the US Food and Drug Administration’s standards.
A spokesman for the team added: ‘We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity.’
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 a regular computer.
A medical professional can use the findings produced by the sKan to indicate whether the patient needs to be referred for further investigation or not.
Annually, skin cancer accounts for one in every three cancer diagnoses.
The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is approximately 98 per cent.
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, health services are at maximum capacity.
The runners up of this year’s award were Atropos and Twistlight.
Atropos is a six-axis 3D printing robotic arm that uses continuous fibre composites material, to produce high-performance objects.
The designers, Gabriele Natale and Michele Tonizzo, hope to tackle the amount of waste produced by current high performance 3D printing tools.
Twistlight, designed by Tina Zimmer, uses LED lights to make veins appear highly contrasted within their surrounding dermal tissue.
The light can be used to easily insert needles and catheters into a patient’s skin.
Despite being the most common medical procedure, 33 per cent of first vein puncture attempts fail.
Multiple discarded attempts cause patient pain and waste medical materials.