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Help Fight Cancer with Upcoming Smartphone Game

UK charity Cancer Research is taking a game-centric approach to exploring genetic data.

By Pete Davison. Published 8 months ago

Cancer sucks, and it sucks even more that we don't have a definitive cure for it yet.

UK charity Cancer Research UK is being proactive about the seemingly never-ending quest for a cure, however, and is enlisting the help of video game fans to assist with the important research.

An upcoming new smartphone game, tentatively named GeneGame at this point, will provide a simple, fun experience for players to enjoy while at the same time contributing to ongoing efforts to analyze genetic material. The charity's scientists are investigating ways to treat patients in a more targeted manner according to their genetic "fingerprint," but this is a process that requires huge amounts of data to be analyzed before it can be put into practice. Much of the data may only be analyzed by the human eye rather than machine, too, so enlisting the help of the public will help speed up the process considerably.

GeneGame is the work of Guerilla Tea, an outfit based in Dundee, Scotland that has previously worked on a variety of mobile apps, including implementations of digital comics and original games. The team will consolidate work developed by programmers, gamers, designers and other specialists from a number of different companies who attended a game jam organized by the charity in March of this year.

GeneGame promises to be more of a... well, game than the charity's previous crowdsourcing effort Cell Slider.

This isn't the first time that Cancer Research has harnessed the power of the public to assist with its work. The first initiative, known as Cell Slider, launched in October of last year, and is less of a "game" and more a means of crowdsourcing observations on a variety of different tissue and cell samples. Over 200,000 people from over 100 different countries have visited the site since its launch, and this has led to more than 1.6 million classifications -- in three months, the public had analyzed data that would have taken the charity's scientists 18 months to do themselves.

Unlike Cell Slider, however, GeneGame has been specifically designed to be a fun smartphone game that players can dip into for five minutes at a time while knowing that they're helping to do some good in the process.

"We're right at the start of a world-first initiative that will result in a game that we hope hundreds of thousands of people across the globe will want to play over and over again," said Amy Carton, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK. "Combining complicated cancer research data and gaming technology in this way has never been done before and it's certainly no mean feat, but we're working with the best scientific and technology brains in the business, we're ready for the challenge and believe the results will have global impact and speed up research."

"We're absolutely delighted to have been selected by Cancer Research UK for this project," added Mark Hastings, CEO of developer Guerilla Tea. "We've always believed games technology has the potential to provide huge benefits to other sectors, and this project will be a wonderful example of that. We're very excited to get started and through our work look forward to helping speed up discoveries that one day might lead to new cancer treatments."

GeneGame is set to launch on as-yet undisclosed smartphone platforms later this year in the UK. No plans have yet been announced for a worldwide release.

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