Gamers help with cancer research

Times Series: The game app is free to use on smartphones The game app is free to use on smartphones

"Citizen scientists" have helped experts to speed up the process of unlocking genetic data simply by playing a smartphone game.

In just one month, gamers using Cancer Research UK's app have accomplished the same amount of analysis that it would take one scientist six months to do manually, the charity said.

As players navigate the Play To Cure: Genes In Space game, they are actually helping to highlight flaws in the genetic make-up of cancer patients.

Each time gamers play, they are analysing the DNA of one chromosome and, since its launch at the start of last month, users have made 1.5 million "classifications", a spokesman said.

Cancer Research UK said that gamers from almost every country in the world have collectively spent 53,000 hours - six-and-a-half years - playing the game.

The game is set 800 years in the future and players are challenged to steer their spaceship to collect a valuable material, called Element Alpha. Gamers map out their route with the aim of collecting as much Element Alpha as possible.

As they navigate their craft through space they are actually mapping out genetic data, which will later be analysed by scientists. Players have been analysing data collected from 2,000 breast cancer patients from three hospitals in the UK and two in Canada, and so far gamers have analysed around half the data from the first research project.

"We're astounded by this fantastic support from citizen scientists across the world which goes to show you don't need to wear a lab coat to be a hero," said Hannah Keartland, Cancer Research UK's citizen science lead.

"It's crucial we don't stop here because the more people who play in their spare moments, the quicker we'll make a difference.

"It's still early days but we believe the collective force of global gamers could have a massive impact and speed up our life-saving research."

Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge, said: "We're incredibly grateful to everyone who is giving their spare moments to help us analyse genetic data.

"We're working hard to develop better drugs, improve the diagnosis of cancer patients and understand why some treatments work and others won't to spare unpleasant side-effects.

"Computers can't analyse our research data with 100% accuracy - we need the human eye for greater precision. It can take us years to decode the huge amounts of data generated by research. But with everyone's help, the boost to our work could be enormous."

The app is free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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