Low cost, handheld device to diagnose melanoma wins international James Dyson Award

The winners of the James Dyson Award, sKan along with James Dyson

The James Dyson Award is a contest open to university level students (and recent graduates) studying product design, industrial design and engineering. The award encourages ideas that challenge convention, lean engineering – less is more, and design with the environment in mind. The best inventions are simple and practical yet provide a solution to a real-world problem.

In September, they announced the Singapore national winner, PERI, developed by a group of students from the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) who won £2,000 to further their idea.

The International Winner this year was announced today as sKanan affordable melanoma skin cancer detection device which was designed by four recent graduates in biomedical and electrical engineering, from McMaster University in Canada. As international winners of the James Dyson Award, the team will be given £30,000 to develop their idea.

The international runners-up this year are Twistlight from Germany, a vein-puncture tool for healthcare professionals which uses LED lights to illuminate veins and guide the needle clearly into the tissue and Atropos from Italy, a 6-axis robotic arm, able to print 3D objects without using excessive amounts of material, unlike conventional 3D printing machines.

How the sKan works

The sKan device works by using temperature thermistors to detect whether a region of skin is malignant or not. Because malignant skin heats up quicker than non-malignant skin, the device is able to detect the likely presence of melanoma and display this through thermal heat mapping.

At a global level, 1 in every 3 cancers diagnosed is skin cancer, and there are 132,000 instances of melanoma cancers every year. Early diagnostic methods rely heavily on visual inspections, which are inaccurate. More advanced methods are time consuming and expensive, adding avoidable strain to already over-burdened health services. Those who do not go through biopsy procedures run the risk of missed detection. The sKan, is a cheaper, easy to use diagnostic system that could save lives through early detection, while also saving health services valuable time and money.

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How Atropos works?

Gabriele Natale, Design & Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Problem: Current high-performance 3D printing tools waste large amounts of material.

Solution: Atropos is a 6-axis robotic arm, able to print 3D objects, by starting from a CAD file. Atropos uses continuous fiber composites material, to produce high-performance objects. Fibers are saturated, while a numerically-controlled machine is able to deposit them in a precise and repeatable way.

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How Twistlight works?

Tina Zimmer, Product Design, Gestaltung Köln, Germany

Problem: Although vein-puncture is the most common medical procedure in the world, 33% of vein-puncture attempts fail at the first attempt. The risk of an infection and complication increases with every further attempt. Every abortive attempt prolongs the therapy and increases the cost, along with the pain and stress levels of both patient and medical staff.

Solution: Twistlight uses LED lights in a diagnostically relevant way to guide it clearly into the tissue. It makes veins appear highly contrasted with its surrounding dermal tissue. The device can be used single handed, therefore 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. The device incorporates an integrated catheter feed and catheter guidance. The device is battery-powered and therefore can be used in hospitals, offices and out in the field, with the emergency services.

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“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”,  said James Dyson.

While non-invasive, thermal imaging techniques for melanoma diagnosis exist, these are expensive as they use high-resolution thermal imaging cameras, which cost upwards of £20,000. The anticipated cost of the sKan is less than $1,000.

Dr. Raimond Wong, Chairman of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Site Group at the Juravinski Cancer Centre says: “Current methods of detecting whether a lesion is melanoma or not is through the trained eyes of physicians – resulting in patients undergoing unnecessary surgery or late detection of melanoma. The sKan has the potential to be a low cost, easy to use and effective device, that can be afforded and adopted across health services.