Smartphone game to aid cancer cure search
By Reuters and Nicole Kobie
Posted on 1 Mar 2013 at 08:35
Scientists from Cancer Research UK are working with Amazon, Facebook and Google to design and develop a mobile game aimed at speeding up the search for new cancer drugs.
The project should mean that anyone with a smartphone and five minutes to spare will be able to investigate vital scientific data at the same time as playing a mobile game.
The first step is for 40 computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists to take part in a weekend "GameJam" to turn the charity's raw genetic data into a game format, with a working title of GeneRun.
"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 that needs to be analysed by the human eye - and this could take years," said Carlos Caldas at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Institute.
Find out moreThe gamification of life
"By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we'll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely."
After the GameJam, which runs in London over this weekend, an agency will build the game concept into reality and the team plans to launch it in mid 2013.
To help, Amazon Web Services will offer free hosting for the hackathon, and provide resources and expertise in developing the game. Facebook UK is offering some of its engineers to help, and assisted in setting up the event. Google is offering financial support, and is hosting the event at its East London co-working space, Campus.
CRUK's scientists are working hard to identify the genetic faults that drive cancer, in an attempt to find new ways of diagnosing and treating patients in a more targeted way that's based on their genetic profile and that of their tumours.
In a major international study on breast cancer genetics published last year, CRUK researchers said they're now able to classify the disease into ten sub-types - a finding that could lead to more accurate and tailored treatment in future.
The best way to solve a problem is to bring smart people together to 'hack' a solution
That study also found several completely new genes that drive breast cancer, offering potential targets for new types of drugs.
Yet this type of research generates colossal amounts of data that needs to be analysed, CRUK said as it announced the gaming project. And while advances in technology mean scientists can process data faster than ever, much of it still needs to be analysed by people rather than machines.
"The human eye can detect subtle changes that machines aren't programmed to look for - leading to serendipitous discoveries providing clues to the causes and drivers of the disease," the charity said.
"With the collective power of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe helping our scientists to analyse this data, we could drastically speed up research."
Philip Su, engineering site director of Facebook London, said his company believes "the best way to solve a problem is to bring smart people together to 'hack' a solution."
"That approach is just as valid in the field of life sciences as it is in software engineering," he said.
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