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Reversing The Odds with Citizen Science

Reversing The Odds with Citizen Science

February 18 2015

By Charlotte Knight

With thanks to Leslie Harris, Product Manager, Cancer Research UK Citizen Science Team, for writing this blog post.

Reverse The Odds is Cancer Research UK’s third Citizen Science project. It puts pathology data analysis into the hands of people around the world by embedding it into a fun and compelling mobile game.

Medical research generates huge amounts of data. Oncology is no exception. As our understanding of this family of diseases increases, so does the need for analysis. The promise of personalised medicine – understanding how an individual’s disease might progress and how to optimise their treatment – opens up innumerable avenues for enquiry, but all of these require more data and more analysis.
 
Much of this analysis, particularly in pathology, is still best done by the human eye. That’s why we want to serve this sort of data to as many people as possible. We’ve had success crowd sourcing pathology analysis before in Cell Slider, launched in 2012, and we experimented with gamifying breast cancer microarray analysis in Genes in Space (which received widespread media coverage and was downloaded over 300,000 times since launch in February 2014). Reverse the Odds is the culmination of what we’ve learned so far and an attempt to combine the accurate analysis of Cell Slider with the mass appeal of Genes in Space, made possible by the increasing prevalence of connected mobile devices.
 



The project has benefitted from being truly collaborative. It started with the vision of one very determined woman, Claire McArdle, Executive Producer for Multiplatform at Maverick TV, who was inspired enough by our citizen science work to pull this project together. The game was generously sponsored and published by Channel 4 and produced by the multiplatform team at Maverick TV. Designers and developers at The Chunk Group dreamed up and brought to life the weird and wonderful world of the Odds. In addition to powering the technical back-end of the project, the citizen science experts at The Zooniverse lent a huge amount of support and knowledge. Crucially, we had the advice of a panel of scientists, including two eminent pathologists who had been involved with Cell Slider. We were incredibly lucky to work with such a skilled team, and learned the value of being able to work with specialists in game design, development and publication. We were able to produce a much better product by leveraging these skills and letting the experts get on with what they do best.

Our previous projects were centred around one research group and its particular data challenge. Understanding the scale of the pathology data bottleneck, we wanted to make sure Reverse The Odds could be used for multiple pathology datasets. To do this, we worked with our panel of scientists to develop a superset of analysis questions that would cover a range of datasets. Chunk designed the analysis tutorial as a standalone unit that can be customised for each dataset with the pre-defined questions and not need additional development or resubmission through the app stores. Last summer, we tested this with five datasets from two researchers to ensure the process worked and that the results generated by the public were accurate.

One of the major challenges was trying to build a compelling game loop that incentivises a high volume of analysis without tempting people to sacrifice accuracy. We have seen elsewhere how leader boards based on number of classifications or other aspects of game play can encourage inaccurate analysis. Chunk decided to use a classic puzzle mechanic for the main game play and adopt the freemium game model, where players unlock points or bonuses through in-app purchases - but in Reverse The Odds basing in-game rewards on users completing analysis that matches other players’ results. By separating the game from the analysis, we could ensure the game stayed fun, the analysis stayed pure, and that we were rewarding players for the right behaviour. It’s really exciting to think of the potential of this approach for our data challenges.


Reverse The Odds was launched in October 2014. To date we’ve had over 2.7 million classifications and analysed five datasets. The game is currently analysing data for Dr Anne Kiltie, a clinical oncologist at Oxford, who is investigating how different tumour markers in bladder cancer can predict how a patient might respond to different treatments; and Professor Gareth Thomas, a pathologist in Southampton who is investigating responses to immunotherapy in lung cancer.

From glasses to help reclaim sight for the blind to 3D-printed prosthetics, I’m honoured that Reverse The Odds has been recognised among outstanding Social Tech projects. I love health tech, and I’m particularly inspired by Dhilcare and MobileOCT, which use smartphone technology to bring high standard-of-care diagnostics to poor and rural areas - amazingly simple innovations that could be truly transformative.

Images courtesy of Cancer Research UK

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