Most games are just about entertainment, but sometimes you can do a little good too. Play to Cure: Genes In Space is a mobile game developed for Cancer Research UK as a way to get people all over the world involved in sorting through real genetic data and help scientists get a handle on the causes of cancer. Also, there are space ships.

In the game, you are collecting Element Alpha, which is a made up thing. You chart a course through fields of the glowing blue stuff, and you want to hit the most dense areas, of course. What you're really looking at is DNA microarray data. One of the best ways to determine what is causing cancers is to find out which genes have been lost or duplicated among sufferers. A DNA microarray looks at the gene frequencies in thousands of people, but that data has to interpreted.

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When you fly through the Element Alpha, you are actually showing researchers where the copy number variations begin and end in the array data. Gene variations that are more common are more likely to be important in treating cancer. Computers can do some of this without human intervention, but humans are actually better than current software at noticing subtle changes in patterns, like in the DNA microarray data. The game isn't hugely challenging, but it's potentially really important stuff.

[Cancer Research UK]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • Serge Cebrian

    First :P

    nice idea, reminds me of the seti@home project o the one that was on PS3 as well...

    the human interaction is a nice idea !!

    • janzour

      You Mr., were definitely not the first. Now, go jump out of the window.

      • Serge Cebrian

        if you order by newest or oldest i am first..
        so you are wrong mister :)
        whats the problem to remark im first, at least i posted something along ...

        its bad when someone just post first for the sake of doing that but doesnt even try to contribute to the post. those should jump through the window

        and guess what you didnt even tried to contribute and just posted for the sake of posting against a first. so you can jump that window as well

        • janzour

          You are wrong because the default is the "best", just make space for people who contribute more than you to this world. If you say I'm first you are just being a douche and deserve to be nominated in the biggest douche of universe awards.

          • Stephan Reich

            simmer down children. we all agree that this game is great in the playing and conceptual aspects. we don't need an argument of who's penis is bigger...

  • jesuguru

    "Billy, get off the games and finish your homework"

    "But Mom, I'm helping to cure cancer!!!"

  • Matthew Fry

    This presents an interesting idea. You could use data like this in a more symbiotic way. If you could harness that to power the behavior of different games you could present truly random behavior while returning results to cancer centers. I don't know... mob behavior or puzzle game... Maybe this specific representation of the data is easiest for humans to identify the patterns though.

  • http://www.LOVEanon.org/ Michael Oghia (Ogie)

    This is so. frickin. creative.