A new device called the sKan has won the 2017 international James Dyson Award. The sKan makes heat maps of the skin to identify anomalies associated with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, to enable earlier detection.

Globally, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and while you might assume that its appearance on the outside of the body makes it easy to spot, it still results in tens of thousands of deaths every year. That's largely because diagnosis relies on visual inspection by doctors, meaning melanomas can often be missed until it's too late.

Designed by a team from McMaster University in Canada, the sKan can make more accurate diagnoses quickly and reasonably cheaply. It's based around the fact that cancer cells have a faster metabolic rate than healthy cells, meaning they release more heat. To check if a patch of skin has the beginnings of a melanoma, the suspected area is first cooled with an ice pack before the sKan device is placed against the skin.

Using an array of temperature sensors called thermistors, the sKan will then monitor the area as the skin warms back up. If there's a melanoma present, it will warm up faster than the surrounding skin, revealing itself on a heat map and temperature difference time plot created through a connected computer program.

The technique is non-invasive, fast and effective, and while it's not the first to use thermal imaging for melanoma detection, it should be far less expensive than other systems. High resolution thermal imaging cameras for that purpose can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the sKan is expected to cost less than AU$1,000 (about US$770).

The device earned the team this year's international James Dyson Award, a contest for teams of university students to encourage innovation.

"By using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan could allow for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many," says James Dyson. "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."

With the $40,000 prize money, the team plans to continue developing the sKan and putting it through clinical tests, in order to get it out there and saving lives as soon as possible.

"Winning the James Dyson Award means the world to us," the team says in a statement. "The prize money will help us to continue developing a medical device that can saves people's lives. We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity."

The runners-up for the award walk away with $6,000 to continue developing their idea. This year that include the Atropos, a 3D-printing robotic arm designed to reduce the amount of waste material, and the Twistlight, a device that uses LED lights to guide needles right into the vein to reduce the amount of misses.

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