O Briain enlists your phone in search for cancer cure

‘Geek for hire’ (his words) Dara O Briain

By Madeline O’Connor

CANCER Research UK has enlisted the help of comedian Dara O Briain to support the launch of a smartphone game that it claims will help cure cancer quicker.

The game, called ‘Play to Cure: Genes in Space’, embeds gene data from cancer tumours into gameplay.

O Briain said at the London launch that the charity hopes that by getting lots of people to give a small amount of their time, they will be able to analyse patterns in the data more quickly.

“Casual gamers, people on the tube, they will pick it up because they get to travel through space scooping up stuff. The game reminds you that you’ve analysed seven sets of cancer data; that will give people a virtuous glow. It’s a classic example of being able to use spare time wisely and know that you’re doing something to help,” he said.

O’Briain said there has been a rise in so-called “citizen science projects”, for the most part due to the huge increases in data from science and research projects. He said he hoped his involvement with Cancer Research UK would help raise the campaign’s profile, and he is promoting it to his 1.6 million followers on Twitter.

He added: “It’s easier to have someone that people know, as well as someone from gaming and science stuff. I’m the nerd for hire. We’ve done similar on [BBC programme] Stargazing and it’s an interesting development for science that seems to work. There are some problems where you need one great mind but a lot of science these days is lots of people doing something over and over to find a pattern,” he added.

This is Cancer Research UK’s second citizen science project after the launch of Cell Slider in 2012. That project asked the public to investigate 2 million images from an online interactive database of cancerous cell samples.

In total, the charity says more than 200,000 people got involved and that work that would have taken lab researchers 18 months was completed in just three. Aspel said he hopes the smartphone game will prove more popular by tapping into the growing mobile gaming market.

The game, which asks users to guide a spaceship safely through an intergalactic assault course to collect a precious metal called Element Alpha, is available for free on Android and iOS.

Every time a player steers their spaceship through the course, they are actually looking at gene data and spotting patterns. This information is then fed back to Cancer Research UK, which will use the data to identify new cancer genes and subsequently devise new diagnostic tests and treatments.




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