Cancer Research UK is making the most of the huge numbers of mobile gaming users by teaming up with leading mobile game publishers Chillingo and Mi, the developers of the popular game The Impossible Line, involving players in a large data experiment.
In collaboration with with Cancer Research UK, Mi has added a series of new levels to The Impossible Line where players are faced with a chalkboard drawing of breast cancer data. The aim is that the player is supposed to look for faults in the genetic pattern and mark them with a line. Anything that looks even slightly out of place, the player is supposed to mark as a fault and therefore highlight a mutation in the genetic pattern.
One of the big problems scientists face is that they have huge volumes of genetic data that could hold clues to new cancer treatments which they currently use computers to analyse. However, their computers do not currently have programs that can reliably analyse such large batches of data.
This solution – distributed data analysis – was famously employed in 1999 by SETI@home, whereby millions of chunks of data were sent off-site to be processed by home computers, which then reported back the results. The benefit of this was the reduction of an onerous amount of data to a reasonable one and the project successfully proved the practicality of the ‘volunteer computing’ concept.
Cancer Research UK think that because of the human brain’s propensity for spotting patterns, using human eyes to analyse this data could be better. The idea is that with so many eyes on one piece of data, scientists will be able to use the most commonly-occurring results and compare them with what their computers have come up with.
The greatest advantage of this collaboration is that Cancer Research UK will have more eyes than ever before as they are able to utilise The Impossible Line’s existing large player base in a way they could not on a solo project, at least not without large amounts of time and money spent on marketing.
The data that players analyse is from patients already diagnosed so there is no effect on a patient’s treatment. Rather, the research is for application to future patients and future diagnoses.
This is why the game is so important; if large numbers of people play this level in The Impossible Line, Cancer Research UK will be able to test their theory by compiling all separate attempts at the level to see how the most commonly occurring result fares against both the computer’s diagnosis and the actual diagnosis.
Cancer Research UK state ‘If we can use this world-first approach to generate accurate analysis, then we potentially have a fantastic new weapon in our fight against cancer – you. That’s because the intelligence we gather from this project will help us create new Citizen Science projects to beat cancer soon.’
You might remember Cancer Research UK utilising mobile gaming in such a way before as they introduced this scheme in 2012. After seeing some impressive results from standalone apps Reverse the Odds and Genes in Space, they have proven that scientific analysis can be successfully incorporated into a game, but this time through collaboration with Mi, they have the opportunity to overcome scaling limitations and to make their research go further.