Smartphone game helps genetic analysis for cancer research

4 February 2014

A UK charity has launched a new game that aims to simultaneously entertain and refine genetic cancer research.
 
Play to Cure™: Genes in Space, ‘the world’s first free mobile game that uses the collective force of players to analyse real genetic data and help beat cancer sooner’, was unveiled today by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
 
Available for download to all Android or Apple smartphone users, the game involves directing a spaceship mission to retrieve a substance dubbed ‘Element Alpha’. But whilst this target is fictional, the surrounding landscape through which the spaceship must be piloted by players corresponds to very real genomic data, and the path they choose creates a map that mirrors variations in gene data, which can be used to guide scientific exploration of genome regions for cancer-associated mutations.
 
Whilst automated analysis is the essential bedrock of genome-level investigation, the human eye performs better than current software for some more subtle sorts of discrimination – but given the huge volume of genomic data, it would take a very long time for a small number of people to perform the necessary inspection. The new game cleverly combines an accessible and amusing format for such analyses with an ideal tool for campaign awareness and crowdsourcing of contributors.
 
CRUK Chief Executive Harpal Kumar said it was “no mean feat combining the most advanced genetic data with cutting-edge gaming technology. But Cancer Research UK will go to whatever lengths possible to pursue the most innovative approaches to increase survival from cancer”.

The gaming and software company Guerilla Tea developed the game for the charity, which is urging as many people as possible to take five minutes to play the game. 

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