Cancer Research UK has hired games and software development agency Guerilla Tea to build the charity’s first mobile phone game to pinpoint new genetic causes of cancer – accelerating potential new cures.
The agency will work closely with Cancer Research UK’s scientists to develop a game, working title GeneGame, that anyone with a smart phone and five minutes to spare can play to analyse Cancer Research UK’s gene data. The game will launch in the UK later this year.
Dundee-based Guerilla Tea creates mobile, handheld and online games. The four founders graduated from Abertay University’s Professional Masters in Games Development and received support in the early stages of establishing their business from the Abertay University Prototype Fund.
It was appointed by Cancer Research UK with help from games expert Channel 4’s games commissioner, Colin Macdonald. Cancer Research UK selected Guerilla Tea because it most closely fulfilled the brief to develop a game format that is both fun to play but simultaneously feeds highly accurate analysis of variations in gene data to Cancer Research UK’s scientists.
Guerilla Tea will consolidate the expertise and formats generated at Cancer Research UK’s GameJam event in March 2013. The event brought together the charity’s world-leading scientists alongside over fifty ‘hackers’ – computer programmers, gamersmpbgame, graphic designers and other specialists from Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google and games technology academics from City University London and Omnisoft.
Amy Carton, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK, said:
“We were very impressed by the initial format produced by Guerilla Tea and we’re excited about seeing the final result.
“We’re right at the start of a world-first initiative that will result in a game that we hope hundreds of thousands of people across the globe will want to play over and over again and, at the same time, generate robust scientific data analysis.
“Combining complicated cancer research data and gaming technology in this way has never been done before and it’s certainly no mean feat but we’re working with the best scientific and technology brains in the business, we’re ready for the challenge and believe the results will have global impact and speed up research.”
Mark Hastings, CEO of Guerilla Tea, said:
“We’re absolutely delighted to have been selected by Cancer Research UK for this project. We’ve always believed games technology has the potential to provide huge benefits to other sectors and this project will be a wonderful example of that. We’re very excited to get started and through our work look forward to helping speed up discoveries that one day might lead to new cancer treatments.”
Cancer Research UK’s scientists are investigating new ways to treat patients in a more targeted way based on their genetic fingerprint – but this research produces terabytes upon petabytes of data requiring analysis. Advances in technology help their scientists identify new causes and drivers of cancer, but much of the data must be analysed by the human eye rather than machines – which can take years.
‘GeneGame’ is the charity’s second project set up to harness the power of the public to help analyse these colossal amounts of data, with the aim to drastically speed up research.
The first initiative, Cell Slider, launched in October 2012 and allows the public to classify archived breast cancer samples, helping Cancer Research UK scientists to better understand breast cancer risk and response to treatment.
Dr Joanna Reynolds, director of science information at Cancer Research UK, said
“Over 200,000 people have already visited our CellSlider site, from over 100 countries, making more than 1.6 million classifications. In just three months, citizen scientists had analysed data that would typically take our scientists 18 months to do and early indications of the accuracy are promising. With GeneGame we are being bolder, braver and bigger and we hope that by the end of the year we’ll have a game that not only is fun to play, but will play a crucial role in developing new cancer cures sooner – ultimately saving lives.”