Can a mobile game help find the cure for cancer? Amazon, Google and Facebook hope so

March 1, 2013

We already know that data is integral to finding the cure for cancer, but some of that data needs the attention of human rather than machine eyes in order to be properly interpreted. To that end, the charity Cancer Research UK has teamed up with Amazon, Facebook and Google to create a mobile game for analysing genetic mutations.

The aim of the game is simply to harness more eyes – cancer researchers already trawl through genetic data to try to pick up on subtle irregularities, but the task would be a lot easier if more people were involved. The charity has already created a web-based game called Cell Slider for looking through archived tissue samples, but the new game is supposed to make the search for a cure more fun, and more suitable for on-the-go usage.

Cancer Research UK is holding a hackathon called GameJam this weekend, through which 40 coders – including Facebook engineers — gamers, graphic designers and “other specialists” will hopefully come up with a suitable format (the goal is a game that can be played for just 5 minutes at a time). The result will be hosted on Amazon Web Services, and Google is hosting the event and providing financial support for the scheme.

“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 analysed by the human eye – and this could take years,” Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at Cancer Research UK’s University of Cambridge facility, said in a statement.

“By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we’ll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely.”

According to Cancer Research UK, Cell Slider has already reduced the analysis time for some clinical trial data from 18 to 3 months – and that’s with tens of thousands of users. The hope is that this new mobile game would pick up hundreds of thousands of users.

The game will launch this summer. If the participants pull it off, it would probably qualify as the most useful application of the “gamification” trend in history.

(c) 2013, GigaOM.com.

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