A new mobile gaming app introduced by Cancer Research UK has players analyzing real cancer data with the goal of helping scientists find potential treatments. The approach could change how companies create apps by using players around the world as crowdsourced labor for processing immense amounts of data.
Genetic Patterns in Cancer
The gaming app is called “Play to Cure: Genes in Space.” The spaceship game speeds up the decoding of data to reveal patterns of the genetic faults that cause cancers to grow and spread.
The setting takes place in a world set 800 years in the future. Players guide a fast-paced spaceship safely in what looks like an asteroid field to collect a fictionalized cargo called “Element Alpha.”
However, they’re actually looking at the genetic data of real cancer patients, and by navigating the intergalactic course of the game, they’re helping to process large amounts of data more quickly than current computers can.
The players’ actions in the game are sent to researchers who identify genetics patterns that lead to cancer.
The non-profit group Cancer Research UK collaborated with programmers from Amazon, Google, Facebook and games studio Omnisoft. The app can be played on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and players can download the game on PokerStars which helped to fund the development of the app.
An estimated 14 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer each year. That number is expected to increase to 22 million a year within the next 20 years, according to the World Health Organization.
Tech observers anticipate that other companies and organizations will follow suit to use apps as a method for obtaining free or cheap labor from players who process data.
For instance, a gaming app could have players classify the riskiness of individuals who apply for life or auto insurance and then send that information back to an insurance company. Apps similar to “Play to Cure: Genes in Space” could be developed in industries such as biotechnology, pharmacy, finance, and defense.