Cancer Research UK launches “Spaceship” smartphone game to seek cancer cures

 

By Emma Rigby

It is available to download now for free here for anyone with an Android or Apple Smartphone. When playing this fun and interactive spaceship game, people will simultaneously analyse Cancer Research UK’s gene data, highlighting genetic faults which can cause cancer – and ultimately help scientists develop new treatments.

Players must guide a fast-paced spaceship safely along a hazard-strewn intergalactic assault course to collect precious material called ‘Element Alpha’. Each time the player steers the spaceship to follow the Element Alpha path, this information is fed back to Cancer Research UK scientists – cleverly providing analysis of variations in gene data. Scientists need this information to work out which genes are faulty in cancer patients – so they can develop new drugs that target them, speeding our progress towards personalised medicine. Each section of gene data will be tracked by several different players to ensure accuracy.

Hannah Keartland, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK, said: “Our world-first Smartphone game is simply out of this world. Not only is it great fun to play – but every single second gamers spend directly helps our work to bring forward the day all cancers are cured. Our scientists’ research produces colossal amounts of data, some of which can only be analysed by the human eye – a process which can take years.

“We hope thousands of people worldwide will play Play to Cure: Genes in Space as often as possible, to help our researchers get through this data. We urge people to give five minutes of their time wherever and whenever they can – whether they’re waiting for their bus to arrive or they’re in the hairdressers having a blow dry. Together, our free moments will help us beat cancer sooner.”

Tony Selman age 72 from Middlesex was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2010 after a series of CT and MRI scans. Tony, who lost his wife to cancer of the oesophagus, was initially treated with Zoladex and Casodexhormone treatments, and later with radiotherapy and brachytherapy and is now having regular checks. He is Cancer Research UK’s citizen science ambassador.

“I’ve watched this game develop from the start and I’m delighted that it is now launching.

“I know that this project won’t be able to help me but it will be a fantastic boost to help scientists discover new clues to the development of cancer more quickly – to provide effective new treatments for cancer to protect my grandchildren and future generations.

“I’ve played this game and think it’s marvellous. And I’d urge everyone out there – if you’ve got five minutes to spare, play it now and help beat cancer sooner.”

Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, said: “Future cancer patients will be treated in a more targeted way based on their tumour’s genetic fingerprint and our team is working hard to understand why some drugs work and others won’t. But no device can do this reliably and it would take a long time to do the job manually. Play to Cure: Genes in Space will help us find ways to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely – sooner.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re enormously proud to launch our first mobile phone game which we believe will build on the great progress we’re making to discover and develop the most effective new treatments for all cancers.

“This is ambitious – it’s no mean feat combining the most advanced genetic data with cutting-edge gaming technology. But Cancer Research UK will go to whatever lengths possible to pursue the most innovative approaches to increase survival from cancer.

“And now we’re calling on our supporters to join in by asking everyone to give up five minutes to play this fantastic game and help us discover cures for cancer sooner.”

To find out further information or download Play to Cure: Genes in Space visit:

www.genes-in-space.org

The science behind Play to Cure: Genes in Space

Play to Cure: Genes in Space is trying to help scientists analyse data generated by a technology called gene microarrays. Researchers use gene microarrays to look for regions of our genome that are frequently faulty in different cancers – a sign that they may be responsible for causing the cancer. If scientists can find genes that promote cancer development, they can design drugs to stop them.

Gene microarrays are useful for analyzing large genetic faults known as copy number alterations – when a whole section of the chromosome is gained or lost. As these large sections of chromosomes may involve many different genes, scientists need a way to work out which are the ones driving cancer, and which are just “passenger” genes along for the ride.

Microarrays let scientists analyse DNA from many thousands of tumour samples simultaneously, to find the most frequent changes that are more likely to be the culprits. Many scientists are trying to use computer software to trawl through the huge amounts of data generated to spot the precise location of copy number changes, but in many cases these are not accurate enough. The human eye is still the best technology we have for picking up these patterns, and Play to Cure: Genes in Space is harnessing this power.

About the author and Cancer Research UK

Emma Rigby works at Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. The charity’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated. Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years. Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.

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