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Cancer Research UK turns to gamification with app

Published on 04/02/14 at 02:48pm
Genes in space image
Genes in space game

Cancer Research UK has launched a new citizen science game aimed at helping its scientists discover new cures for cancer.

The mission of ‘Genes in Space’ which can be downloaded as an app via Google Play or Apple’s iTunes - is to collect a fictional substance dubbed Element Alpha. This represents genetic cancer data, which might underpin certain types of cancer.

As a recruit of the game’s ‘Bifrost Industries’, the player’s mission is to collect the valuable and tradable substance Element Alpha and rise through the employee ranks by:

  • Mapping your route through the densest areas of Element Alpha
  • Following your route as you fly through space collecting as much Element Alpha as you can, destroying asteroids along the way
  • Avoiding and shooting asteroids to get to the next level of Element Alpha collection
  • Upgrading your ship to become more powerful and trading your Element Alpha for more points.

The data analysis goes back to CRUK’s scientists in two ways. First, when a player maps a route through the Element Alpha and secondly, when a gamer fly your spaceship through the intergalactic space course to collect this substance.

By playing Genes in Space players will be analysing significant amounts of genetic data which would have taken scientists hours to do. These data can then be used to develop new and potentially life-saving treatments.

In March last year a team of Cancer Research UK, Amazon Web Services, Facebook and Google developers joined academics, scientists, gamers and designers for a weekend called ‘GameJam’ to create a fun, engaging game that translates data.

From here, CRUK says it took the ideas and developed its very own Genes in Space offering. The game is broadly similar to a concept being used by pharma firm UCB, which last month announced plans to pay members of the public to help with its R&D processes.

Its ‘Innovation Challenge’ will take place online and is designed to help the company find rare phenotypes - for example, people who are somehow protected from disease or possess exceptional tissue regeneration.

People are being asked to enter submissions that describe a “relevant, interesting and rare human phenotype” via a new site in the hope it will help the firm develop new medicines.

View the game video here

Ben Adams 

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