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Smart Phone Game Designed to Help Find Cancer Treatments

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 12 Mar 2013
The goal of a recent event held in London (UK) during March 1-3, 2013, was to identify new and scientifically effective ways for the public sector to help analyze gene data, and enjoy doing it in the process.

Cancer Research UK (London) recently brought together the charity’s world-leading scientists in conjunction with technology titans—such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon Web Services—to design and develop a mobile game to accelerate the finding of cancer cures. This innovative approach means that anyone with a smart phone and five minutes on a bus or train will be able to play an enjoyable game that will simultaneously investigate vital scientific data. The first phase was for 40 computer programmers, graphic designers, gamers, and other specialists to take part in a weekend “GameJam,” or hackathon, to convert Cancer Research UK’s raw gene data into a game format, with a working title of GeneRun, for citizen scientists to play.

An agency will construct the game format developed through the GameJam, to be launched in summer 2013. The charity is investing comprehensively in ways to discover the genetic flaws fueling cancer to find new ways to diagnose and treat patients in a more targeted way based on their genetic fingerprint.

However, this research generates immense amounts of data that need to be analyzed. Developments in technology mean scientists can process data faster than ever to identify new patterns and faults in tumors. But much of it still needs to be analyzed by individuals instead of machines. The human eye can detect slight alterations that machines are not programmed to search for—leading to unanticipated findings, providing insights into the causes and processes of the disease.

This research is currently performed by trained scientists and can take years. However, with the collective a large number of individuals worldwide helping these scientists to analyze this information could drastically speed up research—and consequently, saving lives faster. Citizen science is a new way of including the public in scientific research outside the laboratory.

Prof. Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge (UK), stated, “Future cancer patients will receive treatment targeted to the genetic fingerprint of their tumor and we hope this exciting project will bring forward the day this becomes a reality. We’re making great progress in understanding the genetic reasons cancer develops. But the clues to why some drugs will work and some won’t, are held in data which need to be analyzed by the human eye--and this could take years. By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we’ll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely.”

This was the charity’s second collaboration with the Citizen Science Alliance (UK) and was attended by games technology academics from City University London (UK) as well as a range of technology experts. The first game, Cell Slider, launched as a Beta test in October 2012 to study archived cancer tissue samples.

Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector, Amazon Web Services, said, “It is exciting to be part of this project and use cloud technology, and ‘gamification’ of data, to help in driving research towards finding a cure for cancer. We have a long running relationship with Cancer Research UK, and many other institutes, in using the cloud to help accelerate research. We look forward to seeing the final GeneRun games and supporting this project towards its ultimate goal.”

Dr. Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, remarked, “Through our GameJam event we’re bringing together the cream of the UK’s technology specialists with our scientists as a collaborative force to accelerate cures for cancer outside the laboratory. “By harnessing the collective force of the public, Cell Slider has already shown how we can dramatically reduce the analysis time for some of our clinical trials data from 18 to three months.”

Related Links:
Cancer Research UK
Citizen Science Alliance


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