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Tackling incurable illnesses with gamification

We can often feel quite helpless when facing family members and friends who have been diagnosed with incurable illnesses. It often takes years of study through university followed by years of research to help find a cure for these diseases.


One such illness is Alzheimers, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that affects 24 million people worldwide. To understand this illness and find a cure, researchers from Cornell University are inspecting images of mice’s brains to look for blood vessels being clogged by white blood cells. The amount of images the team needs to look through is enormous, and the research team is struggling to keep up. This amount of data is necessary, but the large quantities means that tackling the backlog of information takes a long time and therefore takes longer to find a treatment or cure.


Luckily, researchers like Pietro Michelucci and the Human Computation Institute worked together to create a game that helps Alzheimer's research by analysing the large amount of data. The game is called Stall Catchers and it makes the data available to the public and lets them contribute to this important research.


Players are presented with the clips of the mice’s brains and are challenged to examine them closely, trying to find which blood vessels are flowing and which are clogged or “stalled”. The frames start off easy, and as you pass they become increasingly difficult. Answers are compared against other player’s answers, and points are awarded for accuracy.

While Stall Catchers initially received some criticism for making this data available to the untrained and unqualified public, it turned out that the results from the tens of thousands of players was more accurate and more consistent than from different researchers.


Stall Catchers is a great example of gamification being used to solve real world challenges. Rather than just playing a game, users are contributing to science which will hopefully one day lead to a cure for Alzheimers.


You can check out Stall Catchers and play the game here: https://stallcatchers.com/virtualMicroscope


Sources:

National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-alzheimers-disease

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz1p2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405821/

People Fixing the World, Gaming for Good https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz1p