Our five projects gave over 500,000 global volunteers the chance to support research into four different cancer types. With puzzle and adventure games, as well as science-focussed web platforms, if you wanted to help accelerate research there was a project to get involved with that would cater to your tastes.
Read about our five projects below.
Released back in 2012, Cell Slider was our very first citizen science project. Our web-based app asked people to analyse samples of breast cancer tumours from previous studies.
The images themselves could each contain a mixture of different looking cells. Some might be cancer cells; others healthy breast cells, and some might be the supporting tissue surrounding these cells. The challenge for the Citizen Scientists was to spot the cancer cells following a short tutorial when they signed up. The images were also coloured based on how much of a particular important molecule, called the oestrogen receptor, the cells produce.
With over 2,000,000 contributions, citizen scientists managed to spot oestrogen receptor with impressive accuracy. However, they struggled to differentiate cancer cells from non-cancer cells. This helped shape our project Trailblazer, which was designed to help citizen scientists spot cancer cells accurately.
Genes in Space was the world’s first mobile game dedicated to analysing cancer data. The mission was to collect a fictional substance dubbed Element Alpha. This represents genetic cancer data, which might underpin certain types of breast cancer. To do that, you map your space route through the densest areas of Element Alpha, and follow your route as you fly a ship collecting as much Element Alpha as you can. You could also shoot asteroids and upgrade your ship.
Genes in Space was a world-wide hit with over 400,000 downloads and lots of press coverage. Nearly 5,000,000 nuggets of data were analysed – the entire genomes of 1980 patients, each checked 50 times for accuracy.
The game proved the public’s hunger for helping us analyse cancer data. But the gaming element was detrimental to accuracy. Our next project, Reverse The Odds, found a way to combine both engaging gameplay with clear analysis.
In Reverse The Odds, players helped a band of colourful creatures whose world is falling into decline, by completing mini puzzle games and rebuilding their magical world. To do that, players earned potions – by answering simple questions about bladder and lung cancer samples.
Reverse The Odds had over 135,000 downloads world-wide and more than 4,500,000 contributions. The game won, among other awards, a Digital Emmy and received high praise from the gaming industry and scientists alike.
We added an exclusive level to the four star-rated mobile puzzle game, The Impossible Line, which gave you the chance to spot genetic faults in breast cancer data. In the lab, scientists map these faults to better understand how mutations cause different subtypes of breast cancer.
In our level, that data was represented by patterns of specks, which represented faults in breast cancer data. Your job was to map those faults by drawing a line through them with your finger. We used a small subset of data from Genes in Space to test if this gaming mechanic gave more accurate results. With 1500 contributions confirming increased accuracy, the project was proof that keeping the analysis separate from gameplay helped improve the quality of analysis.
Our final project, Trailblazer, was a small-scale web-app designed to continuously improve citizen scientists’ ability to spot cancer cells in different types of tissue samples. Players were shown images of tissue cores (this is what scientists call the samples they analyse in the lab) and asked to mark areas of cancerous cells after going through a tutorial. We rebuilt the app several times, each using feedback from players to improve it. By the end of Trailblazer, our volunteers’ analysis matched that of our scientists 90% of the time – the highest accuracy reading of all our projects.