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Cancer Research UK looks to recruit citizen scientists with gene hunt phone game

4 March 2013
Appeared in BioNews 695

Leading technology groups team up with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to develop a mobile phone app that will allow the public to sift through large amounts of genetic data in a bid to accelerate cancer research. The project is run in collaboration with the Citizen Science Alliance.

'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', said Professor Carlos Caldas of the CRUK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge. 'By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we'll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely'.

Forty computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers, and other specialists from companies including Facebook, Amazon, and Google, engaged in a three day 'GameJam' to brainstorm creative ways in which the public could help analyse existing genetic data produced from cancer research scientists.

The resulting ideas will be developed into a game, currently named GeneRun, to be launched in summer 2013. The goal being that whilst smart phone users play the game they will also be helping process scientific data.

CRUK has previously collaborated with the Citizen Science Alliance to produce the game Cell Slider, first released in October 2012, to allow the public to analyse images of cancer tissue samples.

Dr Chris Lintott, chair of Citizen Science Alliance said: 'From our first collaboration, Cell Slider, we've already seen that there are tens of thousands of people happy to contribute their spare time to the cause of science. We hope the GameJam will let even more people join forces to help find cures for cancer'.

'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 eighteen to three months', added chief executive of CRUK, Dr Harpal Kumar. 'This exciting event [GameJam] will provide a channel to help our scientists discover new genetic drivers of cancer that would otherwise take years to identify'.

Can an app help find cancer cure?
BBC News |  1 March 2013
Citizen Science: Public to join cancer cure hunt
BBC News |  1 March 2013
Facebook, Google and Amazon join fight against cancer
Daily Telegraph |  1 March 2013
Top technology gurus to design mobile phone game to speed up cancer cures
Cancer Research UK (press release) |  1 March 2013
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