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Smartphone gamers decode half a year of Cancer Research UK’s genetic data in one month

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 March 2014

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IN ONE month ‘citizen scientists’ have analysed DNA data that would have taken a scientist six months* to analyse by eye by playing Cancer Research UK’s new smartphone game Play to Cure: Genes in Space.

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. – Professor Carlos Caldas

If this amount of DNA – tightly-coiled strings of genetic information – was unravelled it would stretch across 40 miles, or (65 km)**. Incredibly, this is a distance equivalent to the length of more than 540 football fields, or about 80 times the height of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

These figures follow the February launch of the charity’s unique game which global gamers of all ages can play on their smartphones and simultaneously analyse gene data.

Cancer Research UK’s scientists must decode vast amounts of data to discover cancer-causing genetic faults in order to develop new targeted treatments for patients. But the human eye is needed to spot patterns in the data – computers aren’t precise enough. And it would take scientists years to do this manually – diverting their time from other essential research.

But the collective clout of the sheer numbers of gamers across the world have sped this up, and will boost accuracy with many pairs of eyes examining each stretch of DNA.

In just one month, there have been 1.5 million classifications*** through the game from players in almost every country in world.

And citizen scientists have collectively dedicated more than 53,000 hours – six and a half years – playing the game and analysed around half the data from the first research project.

Hannah Keartland, Cancer Research UK’s citizen science lead, said: “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.

“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. There never again needs to be such a thing as a boring queue!

“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.”

The game is available to download now for free for anyone with an Android or Apple Smartphone.

Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, 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 per cent 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.”


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