Called "Play to Cure: Genes in Space", the spaceship game is
designed for smartphones and was launched by the charity Cancer
Research UK (CRUK), which hopes it will speed up the decoding of
data to reveal patterns of the genetic faults that cause cancers to
grow and spread.
Travelling in a world set 800 years in the future, players guide a
fast-paced spaceship safely through a hazard-strewn intergalactic
assault course, gathering along the way a fictional precious cargo
called "Element Alpha".
Each time a player steers the ship to follow the Element Alpha path,
they also reveal patterns and, unwittingly, provide analysis of
variations in the genetic data, explained Hannah Keartland, who led
the project for CRUK and unveiled the game at a London launch on
It is this information that will be fed back to CRUK scientists. And
to ensure accuracy, each section of gene data will be tracked by
several different players.
"We want anyone, anywhere, at any age, to download this game and
play it," said Keartland.
If everyone around the world were to play the game for even a couple
of minutes each, she said, "we could have an absolutely mind-blowing
impact in terms of accelerating research".
An estimated 14 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer
each year and that toll is expected to rise to 22 million a year
within the next 20 years, according to a World Health Organization
report issued on Monday.
Scientists will use the information gathered from "Genes in Space"
players to work out which genes are faulty in cancer patients. This
in turn should help them develop new drugs that target specific
genetic faults, and new ways to figure out how to stop cancer
developing in the first place.
"It's not just a game, it's way of saving lives," said Tony Selman,
a 72-year-old prostate cancer survivor from Middlesex, central
England, who helped launch the new game.
[to top of second column]
Play to Cure is CRUK's second citizen project following a similar
but smaller one last year called CellSlider — which the charity said
cut the time needed for researchers to analyze a set of breast
cancer samples from 18 months to three months.
Professor Carlos Caldas, an oncologist at CRUK's Cambridge
Institute, explained that it works by using data generated by
screening tools called gene microarrays — which scientists use to
look for areas of the human genome that show up faults in cancer
patients — a sign they may be causing the disease.
Gene microarrays are useful for analyzing large genetic faults known
as copy number alterations — when a whole section of the chromosome
is gained or lost.
Since these large sections of chromosomes may involve many different
genes, scientists need a way to work out which are the ones driving
cancer — known as oncogenes — and which ones are just "passenger"
genes along for the ride, he said.
Scientists generally use computer software to trawl through the huge
amounts of data generated by microarrays to spot the precise
locations of copy number changes, but in many cases these are not
"Computers are very good, but they are not perfect," Caldas told
reporters. "The human eye is still the best technology we have for
picking up these patterns, and ... 'Genes in Space' is harnessing that
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Alistair Lyon)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.