GeneRun: Smartphone Game to Help Cure Cancer


Once recognized as a rich world disease, breast cancer is increasingly being understood as a threat to low-income and middle-income countries (LMCs). The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes the rising breast cancer rates in the developing world to increased life expectancy, heightened urbanization and the adoption of western lifestyles.

In 2009, 55 percent of new cancer cases were occurring in developing countries.This rate is only being exacerbated by the late diagnoses of breast cancer in LMCs; a primary cause of the rise of cancer-related deaths in these regions.

Early detection, along with more precise diagnoses and treatment are cornerstones of  treating breast cancer in both the developing and developed world.

Currently, scientists with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) are working to identify the genetic flaws that drive cancer in order to find new ways to provide more personalized diagnoses and treatments for patients based on their genetic profile and their tumors.

“Future cancer patients will receive treatment targeted to the genetic fingerprint of their tumor,” said Professor Carlos Caldas of  the University of Cambridge.

To date, CRUK scientists can classify breast cancer into 10 sub-types, and hope that this will lead to more accurate and personalized treatments. CRUK scientists have also discovered several new genes that drive breast cancer, and view these genes as potential targets for new drug types.

Presently, cancer researchers are using data from tumors to search for the genetic mutations which turn a healthy part of the body into a cancerous threat.

Problematically, the sheer quantity of data requires numerous researchers and much time.

Only the human eye can detect the miniscule flaws that may provide hints about the genetic cause of cancer. These vital hints may lead to more comprehensive and successful cancer treatments.

“The clues to why some drugs will work and some won’t, are held in data which need to be analyzed by the human eye – and this could take years,” said Professor Caldas.

The need for a large number of researchers and time has led CRUK to form a partnership with Amazon, Facebook and Google. Together these organizations will create a smartphone game which will challenge the general public to find the cancer-causing DNA mutations.

Researchers, programmers, and games designers will meet this weekend at GameJam, London to incorporate CRUK’s raw data into a game concept. The working title for the game is GeneRun, and the plan is to launch the game in mid-2013.

GeneRun will allow anyone with a smartphone and a few free minutes to help scientists investigate vital scientific data, and possibly discover genetic flaws causing cancer.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: BBC, PC Pro, World Health Organization, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Wired


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