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New Device Expedites Skin Cancer Diagnosis

A group of researchers at McMaster University have won the James Dyson Award for sKan, an inexpensive and compact skin cancer detection device. They’ll use their $40,000 prize to advance the prototype so that it will meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.

“By using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan allows for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many,” said James Dyson. “It’s a very clever device with the potential to save lives around the world.”

With the shortage of dermatologists and timely and costly melanoma diagnosis procedures, the sKan team is aiming to create a fast-track diagnosis solution. Unlike many other skin cancer detection practices, the device provides quantitative data about the lesions. Other methods typically only produce qualitative results based on visual elements. sKan creates a heat map that can help users identify melanoma. sKan is made up of 16 thermistors, or “temperature-sensitive components,” which target specific areas on the skin that might be at risk for melanoma.

When the skin is cooled, cancerous cells will then warm up faster than non-cancerous tissue. The sKan’s thermistors locate cells that have gained heat faster than other tissue. The heat map pinpoints those cells and the temperature of surrounding areas on an ordinary computer. By reading the temperature results, the physician can decide if the patient’s lesions require more investigation.


“We came across the issue of skin cancer and how technology hasn't had the same impact on its diagnosis as it has on other fields in medicine,” said Prateek Mathur, one of sKan’s researchers. “We found research that used the thermal properties of cancerous skin tissue as a means of detecting melanoma. However, this was done using expensive lab equipment. We set out to apply the research and invent a way of performing the same assessment using a more cost-effective solution.”

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