Citizen Science: Public to join cancer cure hunt

Skin cancer cells
Image caption The public would be able to help find a cure for cancer, including skin cancer

Giants of the technology world and cancer researchers are teaming up to come up with ways to let the general public hunt for cures for cancer.

It is an attempt to mirror some of the success in unleashing the public in the hunt for objects in space.

Cancer Research UK, along with Amazon, Facebook and Google, is trying to get people to search for mutations in DNA which lead to cancer.

The data needs to be analysed by eye, but there are not enough scientists.

There has been rapid progress in working out the exact sequence of a tumour's DNA.

Combining this information from multiple tumours allows researchers to hunt for the critical mutations which turn a normal healthy part of the body into a deadly cancer.

But the amount of data involved is massive and computers cannot find the subtle differences which may give clues to the genetic causes of cancers, which in turn can lead to treatments.

Image caption Researchers look at graphs like this to point to which mutations are common in cancers

Prof Carlos Caldas, from the University of Cambridge, said: "Future cancer patients will receive treatment targeted to the genetic fingerprint of their tumour and we hope this exciting project will bring forward the day this becomes a reality.

"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.

"By harnessing the collective power of citizen scientists we'll accelerate the discovery of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer much more precisely."

Researchers, computer programmers and games designers will meet this weekend to find a ways of converting the dense raw data into something more "game-like".

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The chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Dr Harpal Kumar, said: "We're bringing together the cream of the UK's technology specialists with our scientists as a collective force to accelerate cures for cancer outside the laboratory.

"This exciting event will provide a channel to help our scientists discover new genetic drivers of cancer that would otherwise take years to identify."

They aim to have the project up and running by the summer.

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