A small and simple handheld device with the ability to detect skin cancer has just won the International James Dyson Award for the year.

Because cancerous skin tissue metabolizes more quickly than regular skin cells, the tissue regains heat faster than the rest of a person’s skin. So, when a patient’s skin is cooled down, the device can use heat sensors to detect the difference in temperature between quickly-metabolizing cancer cells and healthy cells.

The contraption, which is called the sKan, then creates a heat map of the skin’s varying temperatures that will indicate where the melanoma cells are.

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While thermal imaging methods of detection are already available, the high-resolution technology costs upwards of $38,000 – and physical examinations are not as efficient or reliable. The sKan’s thermistors are not only highly accurate, but they are also inexpensive.

Melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer, but if it is detected early, patients have a 98% survival rate. The sKan could be the key to helping patients get that early detection.

“By using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan allows for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many,” says Dyson. “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.”

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The sKan was developed by a team of medical and bioengineering researchers from McMaster University in Canada. The group has been awarded $40,000 from the James Dyson Foundation in order to further develop the sKan and ensure it passes FDA standards.

“Winning the James Dyson Award means the world to us,” says the sKan team. “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.”

Last year’s winner of the international award was the EcoHelmet – a durable, recyclable, and portable bicycle helmet made out of paper. While paper may not seem like the safest material for protective headgear, the unique design can absorb massive amounts of shock without causing injury. It can also be collapsed into a portable format that is more convenient to carry than their bulky polystyrene counterparts.

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