Could playing mobile phone games help advance cancer cures?

Over the weekend cancer researchers and tech aces from Google ($GOOG) and other companies teamed up to quickly blueprint a mobile game to advance research of tumor genes. It's one of the latest in a spate of missions to crowdsource tech talent and employ average citizens to take on scientific challenges.

Cancer Research UK unveiled the plans last week to develop the mobile game "to accelerate cures for cancer" with the help of gurus from the web search giant as well as Facebook ($FB) and Amazon Web Services. Plans called for a hack-a-thon over three days to figure out how gene data from cancer research could be turned into a gamer-friendly format. Their work would be handed off to a firm that would develop a mobile phone game that anyone with 5 minutes could play.

Like FoldIt and Phylo, other games that tap the wisdom of the crowd, the new mobile game aims to make solving real scientific problems into a fun challenge that outsiders can tackle. Cancer Research UK expects the mobile game to be available this summer, enabling nonscientist players to help with a real bottleneck in gene analysis facing the organization. Even though analytics tech has helped spot abnormalities in cancer gene data, human eyes are still needed to see irregularities in the gene code that machines might miss.

"It is exciting to be part of this project and use cloud technology, and ramification of data, to help in driving research towards finding a cure for cancer," Teresa Carlson, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services, said in a statement. "We have a long running relationship with Cancer Research UK, and many other institutes, in using the cloud to help accelerate research."

As biotech researchers know all too well, the industry lacks enough skilled data scientists to comb through and analyze Big Data. While seeking help from the public to solve riddles in cancer gene data seems like a tall order, the creators of FoldIt and other games have shown that elements of raw scientific data can be presented as easily understood puzzle pieces that many people outside of labs can piece together. And last year Cancer Research UK got in on the "ramification" of cancer cell data with the beta launch of Cell Slider.

Anyone who's been in an airport lately knows that games on mobile devices have taken hold. Why not make all the mobile fun into something productive for science?

- here's the release
- read the Reuters story
- see my item from FierceBiotech

Special Report: 10 trends in diagnostics -- Mobile phone apps

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