Cancer Research UK Launches ‘Spaceship’ Smartphone Game to Seek Cancer Cures - European Medical Journal

Cancer Research UK Launches ‘Spaceship’ Smartphone Game to Seek Cancer Cures

6 Mins

Cancer Research UK today unveils Play to Cure: Genes in Space – a world-first mobile phone game in which people across the globe will be able to help scientists unravel gene data to find the answers to some of cancer’s toughest questions.

“Play to Cure: Genes in Space will help us find ways to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely – sooner.” – Professor Carlos Caldas

It is available to download now for free here for anyone with an Android or Apple Smartphone. When playing this fun and interactive spaceship game, people will simultaneously analyse Cancer Research UK’s gene data, highlighting genetic faults which can cause cancer – and ultimately help scientists develop new treatments.

Players must guide a fast-paced spaceship safely along a hazard-strewn intergalactic assault course to collect precious material called ‘Element Alpha’. Each time the player steers the spaceship to follow the Element Alpha path, this information is fed back to Cancer Research UK scientists – cleverly providing analysis of variations in gene data. Scientists need this information to work out which genes are faulty in cancer patients – so they can develop new drugs that target them, speeding our progress towards personalised medicine. Each section of gene data will be tracked by several different players to ensure accuracy.

Hannah Keartland, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK, said: “Our world-first Smartphone game is simply out of this world. Not only is it great fun to play – but every single second gamers spend directly helps our work to bring forward the day all cancers are cured. Our scientists’ research produces colossal amounts of data, some of which can only be analysed by the human eye – a process which can take years.

“We hope thousands of people worldwide will play Play to Cure: Genes in Space as often as possible, to help our researchers get through this data. We urge people to give five minutes of their time wherever and whenever they can – whether they’re waiting for their bus to arrive or they’re in the hairdressers having a blow dry. Together, our free moments will help us beat cancer sooner.”

Tony Selman age 72 from Middlesex was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2010 after a series of CT and MRI scans. Tony, who lost his wife to cancer of the oesophagus, was initially treated with Zoladex and Casodex hormone treatments, and later with radiotherapy and brachytherapy and is now having regular checks. He is Cancer Research UK’s citizen science ambassador.

“I’ve watched this game develop from the start and I’m delighted that it is now launching.

“I know that this project won’t be able to help me but it will be a fantastic boost to help scientists discover new clues to the development of cancer more quickly – to provide effective new treatments for cancer to protect my grandchildren and future generations.

“I’ve played this game and think it’s marvellous. And I’d urge everyone out there – if you’ve got five minutes to spare, play it now and help beat cancer sooner.”

Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, said: “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 won’t. But no device can do this reliably and it would take a long time to do the job manually. Play to Cure: Genes in Space will help us find ways to diagnose and treat cancer more precisely – sooner.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re enormously proud to launch our first mobile phone game which we believe will build on the great progress we’re making to discover and develop the most effective new treatments for all cancers.

“This is ambitious – it’s no mean feat combining the most advanced genetic data with cutting-edge gaming technology. But Cancer Research UK will go to whatever lengths possible to pursue the most innovative approaches to increase survival from cancer.

“And now we’re calling on our supporters to join in by asking everyone to give up five minutes to play this fantastic game and help us discover cures for cancer sooner.”

To find out further information or download Play to Cure: Genes in Space visit:


For media enquiries please contact the press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

The game was developed by Dundee agency Guerilla Tea alongside Cancer Research UK’s scientists.

The format was developed at Cancer Research UK’s GameJam  in March 2013. The event brought together the charity’s scientists alongside over 50 specialists including games technology academics from City University London and Omnisoft.

Cancer Research UK would like to thank The Rational Group for its generous donation to fund the game development.

In addition the charity would like to thank the following organisations for their support and advice during the development: Citizen Science Alliance, Amazon Web Services, Google and Facebook.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space is Cancer Research UK’s second Citizen Science project – last October the charity launched Cell SliderTM in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance, which reduced the time it would take for researchers to analyse a subset of archived breast cancer samples from 18 months to just three months – with more than 200,000 people classifying almost 2 million cancer images. The aim is to help Cancer Research UK scientists with their research to better understand breast cancer risk and response to treatment.

The Citizen Science Alliance comprises a diverse group of organisations committed to increasing public participation in science.

The science behind Play to Cure: Genes in Space

Play to Cure: Genes in Space is trying to help scientists analyse data generated by a technology called gene microarrays. Researchers use gene microarrays to look for regions of our genome that are frequently faulty in different cancers – a sign that they may be responsible for causing the cancer. If scientists can find genes that promote cancer development, they can design drugs to stop them.

Gene microarrays are useful for analyzing large genetic faults known as copy number alterations – when a whole section of the chromosome is gained or lost. As these large sections of chromosomes may involve many different genes, scientists need a way to work out which are the ones driving cancer, and which are just “passenger” genes along for the ride.

Microarrays let scientists analyse DNA from many thousands of tumour samples simultaneously, to find the most frequent changes that are more likely to be the culprits. Many scientists are trying to use computer software to trawl through the huge amounts of data generated to spot the precise location of copy number changes, but in many cases these are not accurate enough. The human eye is still the best technology we have for picking up these patterns, and Play to Cure: Genes in Space is harnessing this power.

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