“Inexpensive” device that detects skin cancer wins James Dyson Award 2017

A team of four undergraduates from Canada have been given £30,000 to make their product a reality, while two runners-up have also been awarded £5,000 each.


A handheld medical device used to diagnose melanoma skin cancer has been announced as the international winner of this year’s James Dyson Award.

The contest – which runs in 23 countries – is aimed at university students or recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering, and is based around creating a product that “solves a problem”.

The winning entry for 2017 is called SKan, and has been developed by four engineering undergraduates from McMaster University in Canada with the aim of making it easier to diagnose melanoma more accurately.

In the UK alone, an estimated 2,500 people die of melanoma every year. However, early detection of the cancer is usually reliant on a visual inspection by a physician, which is often inaccurate, while more advanced methods such as high resolution thermal imaging cameras can cost over £20,000. SKan aims to be a cheaper, easy-to-use system for early detection of melanoma, and costs under $1,000 (£763).

The device works by using accurate temperature sensors called thermistors to track the temperature of different areas of the skin after cooling it down with an ice pack. Cancerous cells have a high metabolic rate – or release energy more quickly – than normal cells, so will regain heat more quickly than non-cancerous tissue after the ice pack is taken off. The results of the test are then shown as a heat map and a time plot of the temperature difference.


The winning team who created SKan will take away £30,000 to develop the product, while a further £5,000 will be awarded to their university department. They will use the money to refine the product until it receives Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and can be used across medical practices globally.

Dyson founder James Dyson 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 as this year’s international winner.”

Two runners-up have also been awarded £5,000 to develop their products. One of the runners-up is Gabriele Natale, who studies design and engineering and has devised a robotic arm that is able to print three-dimensional objects directly from a computer aided-design (CAD) file. Product design student, Tina Zimmer, has also been awarded £5,000 for designing a LED light-based device that makes it easier to carry out vein punctures on patients.

A UK James Dyson Award winner was announced earlier this year, and comprises a range of expandable children’s clothing designed to grow with the wearer.


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