Mobile game speeds cancer research

Cancer Research UK has launched a mobile game for iOS and Android that crowdsources cancer research.

Cancer Research UK has launched a mobile game for iOS and Android that crowdsources cancer research.

(Credit: Cancer Research UK)

Sitting on a bus fiddling with your phone? Why not do some cancer research?

Cancer Research UK has launched a new game that allows you to do just that. Called Play to Cure: Genes in Space, the game reflects several months of work, as well as previous experience in crowdsourcing the same sort of research.

The research itself is wrapped up in a pretty cool game. As a pilot, you have to fly around space collecting a substance called Element Alpha, which is vitally important for medicine, engineering and a whole bunch of other things. You have a customisable ship that you can upgrade, and you fly through hoops shooting asteroids using either touch or gyroscopic controls. None of this has anything to do with the research.

DNA microarray dataset and in-game flight map. (Credit: Cancer Research UK)

To help perform research, you have to map a path through space through densely-packed asteroid fields. These asteroid fields are actually converted DNA microarray datasets. When you mark points on the densest areas of the map, what you are doing is plotting a course through actual microarray data, which in turn will help scientists spot subtle patterns, peaks and troughs in DNA data, identifying the DNA weak points that could lead to cancer.

The game itself isn't particularly difficult to play, either, which means anyone can pick it up and have a go — which is, after all, the point. The more people playing, the more data Cancer Research UK can collect. Each dataset will be played by multiple people to ensure a very narrow margin of error.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space is available now for free for iOS and Android.

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