Late last week it was announced that scientists at Cancer Research UK, alongside game developers at Guerille Tea, have developed a smartphone game that will help them analyse the overwhelming reams of genetic data that has been generated in recent studies – and it all takes place in an intergalactic landscape.

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‘Play to Cure: Genes in Space’ requires players to safely navigate their spaceship around obstructions whilst completing a fast-paced mission to collect a precious metal, known as Element Alpha. The spaceships are guided across mountains and valleys that correspond to highs and lows that are likely to hide the genetic abnormalities scientists are looking for.

Whilst computer software can certainly help locate these anomalies, this is only to a certain extent. Researchers have also been unable to determine which genes actually cause cancer and which genes are just ‘passengers’ – computer software is not yet accurate enough to do this. These tasks still require human eyes, and it will take scientists alone many years to trawl through all of this data.

The idea for the game originally came out of a hackathon in 2013 that brought together scientists, game developers and designers from an array of companies (including Google and Facebook). Cancer Research UK hopes that ‘Play to Cure’ will harness the detection powers of thousands of people, thereby increasing the chances of specific genetic faults being found quickly.

“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 don’t,” said professor Carlos Caldas. “But no device can do this reliably and it would take a long time to do the job manually. [The game] will help us find was to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely.”

‘Play to Cure: Genes in Space’ is currently available for free download through the Apple App Store and Google Play.