Cancer Research UK's latest foray into citizen science is in the form of the game Even the Odds. Just spend some time trying to save the Odds and you can also help researchers gather data on cancer cells.
The game itself is pretty similar to other games out there: the world of the Odds is falling apart, and by playing minigames, players can upgrade the failing land and restore the Odds.
But the games incorporate real analysis of cancer data. The images used are magnified samples of tumor tissue — neck, lung, and bladder — from former patients. Players are asked questions about the images, because the designers believe that humans are better at finding the kinds of patterns they're looking for than computers.
This particular project is organized around trying to identify biomarkers that indicate whether a patient will respond better to surgery or radiotherapy. Explains Cancer Research UK and Dr. Anne Kiltie:
"We have over 800 samples from more than 300 bladder cancer patients," says Anne. The team takes tiny pieces of these tumour samples – known as 'cores' – and sets them in blocks of wax so they can cut extremely thin slices of the samples to image on a microscope.
The researchers take these slices and use special dyes to highlight key proteins found inside the cells that the team think may make good biomarkers for bladder cancer. And it's these coloured images that will feature in our latest game – where our Citizen Scientists (following a simple tutorial) will be asked questions like:
How many cancer cells do you see?
How many cells are blue?
How strongly are these cells glowing?
Importantly, Anne points out, each of these samples has come from patients' bladder tumours before they receive radiotherapy or have their bladder removed.
And as the samples are from patients who were subsequently treated, the team will be able to look at the differences between the levels of the different markers and how well they responded to different treatment.
"We would then follow up the most promising markers in more tumour samples to be sure they are accurate," says Anne.
Pick the game — and the organization's other citizen science games — here.
[via Scientific American]