Gamers could put their skills to use to diagnose diseases in the future. A set of digital games, for example BioGames, would allow users to make decisions or label microscopic images of specimens on their PCs, tablets and mobile phones. This solution to sorting through large quantities of medical data was thought up by Aydogan Ozcan and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, US.

 

With more and more cheap and portable digital imaging and sensing devices being developed, huge amounts of biomedical data from all over the world are going to be generated. The data will provide an opportunity to understand disease patterns in different parts of the world, for example. But there aren’t enough medical experts to sort through all this data.

That is why Ozcan is turning to gamers for help. In their latest experiment, Ozcan’s team asked 1000 people from over 60 countries to look at grids containing microscope images of red blood cell samples to pick out the cells infected with malaria. They used a stain that makes the cells infected with malaria appear blue. The gamers’ job was to kill or bank infected and healthy cells, respectively. Ozcan’s team measured the diagnostic accuracy of the responses and found that the accuracy level was comparable to those of expert medical professionals. To ensure that accuracy was maintained, the gamers were assessed individually based on their responses.

The BioGames programme

The BioGames interface was made available on the internet in May 2012 and Ozcan reports that more than 2150 gamers from 77 countries have registered on their servers. They have already generated more than 1.5 million individual cell diagnoses.

Of course the idea isn’t new. In 2011, Chemistry World featured a piece about using people’s computers for drug discovery and simulating the way proteins fold. Gamers weren’t needed this time though as the work was happening in the background while the computers were in idle mode.

Other crowd-sourcing websites include Fold it, which enables the user to contribute to research into diseases by folding proteins and Galaxy Zoo, where the user can help astronomers explore the universe.

You don’t always have to wear a lab coat to contribute to science.

Elinor Hughes

 

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