How gaming could help cure cancer

Amazon, Facebook and Google have teamed up with Cancer Research UK to design and develop a mobile game to accelerate cures for cancer.

In a hackathon this weekend, they’re hoping to create a smartphone game that will simultaneously analyse gene information. Forty programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists will work on embedding raw anonymised gene data into a new computer game, dubbed GeneRun. Playing the game will analyze the data.


Genetic research generates enormous amounts of information, much of which needs to be analyzed by human beings. The human eye, says the team, can detect subtle changes that machines simply aren’t programmed to spot. But there’s never enough people for the job.

“We’re making great progress in understanding the genetic reasons cancer develops. But the clues to why some drugs will work and some won’t, are held in data which need to be analysed by the human eye – and this could take years,” says Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

“By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists, we’ll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely.”

Facebook is sharing expertise from its engineering team, while Google’s giving financial support and hosting the hackathon in Tech City. Amazon Web Services is providing the technology platform on which the final game will be hosted, and will also offer technology resources and expertise.

“It is exciting to be part of this project and use cloud technology, and gamification of data, to help in driving research towards finding a cure for cancer,” says Teresa Carlson, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector for Amazon Web Services.

“We have a long-running relationship with Cancer Research UK, and many other institutes, in using the cloud to help accelerate research. We look forward to seeing the final GeneRun games and supporting this project towards its ultimate goal.”

The finished game, says the team, should launch this summer.