A videogame for cancer research

Facebook, Amazon and Google joined the association Cancer Research UK providing the resources necessary to create a videogame for mobile phones that’s really special. Its name, at least its working name, is GeneRun and will be userful to cancer research and allowing anyone to examine a mountain of data to find small changes in genes that may cause cancer forms.

Over the past weekend a “hackathon” was held in which a group of programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists have worked to transform the raw data provided by Cancer Research UK into a format usable in a game. In this way, it will be possible to take advantage of the crowdsourcing model allowing anyone to analyze those data.

Thousands if not millions of ordinary people who look at the data, even for a few minutes at a time, can perform a greater amount of work than a small group of specialists, also because the latter can’t devote full time to this type of exam. A large part of this work, atl least for the moment, can’t be automated thus human eyes are needed to examine the genetic data.

The researchers make continuous progress in understanding the genetic reasons for the development of cancer. The clues as to why some drugs work better and others don’t are part of the data to be analyzed by the human eye. If this type of analysis was performed only by specialists it would take years while taking advantage of the crowdsourcing model the timeline may be shortened dramatically.

The association Cancer Research UK has already collaborated last year with Zooniverse to use the crowdsourcing model in the fight against cancer by creating the Cell Slider website, which was launched as a beta test in October 2012, where anyone can analyze data related to real cancer patients to help the research.

The Cell Slider initiative has already been called a success, with tens of thousands of visitors. The estimated time for the analysis of clinical data offered on the site is three months instead of the eighteen that would have been required if the work had been carried out only by qualified medical personnel.

The crowdsourcing model applied to medical research had already proven to be very useful in recent years with initiatives such as those contained in the foldit portal, that concern diseases but also other problems such as environmental ones. Again, ordinary people help the research by using a videogame.

The work done last weekend is only the first step in creating the new videogame for cancer research. According to the association Cancer Research UK its release should take place during the summer 2013.

Videogames are often the subject of controversy but GeneRun, or whatever its final name will be, will demonstrate once again that they can be used not only for fun but also for a very useful purpose.

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