Med Tech

Combining video games and science to develop medical research ideas

Gaming, specifically video gaming is a convenient way to relax when consumed in a healthy manner. Video gaming can also be an extremely useful platform to come up with solutions through using predictive technologies and Artificial Intelligence. Some researchers have developed interesting games that can not only help relieve stress but also come up with innovative solutions for scientific and medical research as well as help better a scientist and a healthcare worker’s knowledge. Such games will also help in brainstorming and coming up with solutions for tough research questions and thus help other scientists in the community. 

The idea of using games to conduct research is not new. One of the oldest research-oriented games, Foldit, has been online since 2008 — and has generated real, tangible results in the field of protein folding that could have applications in creating treatments for AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. The success of Foldit has spurred the development of a handful of other research-driven games. More universities are adding programs and curricula that marry science and gaming and hence brings hopes that games for scientific research might be picking up traction.

Some of the fun games that have successfully married both gaming and scientific research are as follows: 

  1. FoldIt: Foldit is one of the first few ventures that has provided viable and useful results. It was developed as a part of an experimental research project at the University of Washington. Players were able to discover the structure of a monkey HIV virus, a problem that had stumped scientists for over ten years, in just ten days. The game itself is a 3D folding puzzle. Players are challenged to fold proteins into compact designs and are scored on various criteria like size, conformation and position of the hydrophobic side chains. Players can work alone or with teams, to compete in puzzles and challenges.
  2. EteRNA: EteRNA was developed by Dr Rhiju Das from Stanford University. The goal of the game is to mold RNA molecules into specified shapes. The player is presented with a chain of circles representing nucleotides and has to swap their colors. Each color represents one of the four nucleobases that are the building blocks of RNA. To clear a level, the player has to recreate a given shape. Once the player has reached certain mastery they can play in the lab section of the game, where researchers challenge players to mimic all new RNA shapes. The best designs are then synthesized in the lab and scored. With the Open Vaccine competition, the game has encouraged people to come up with various mRNA COVID-19 vaccine solutions. 
  3. Eyewire: EyeWire is attempting to map the brain, through pairing insights from players with AI to reconstruct the neural connections in the brain. Through this game, new circuits and six new types of neurons have been discovered. In the actual gameplay, an AI picks a neuron, and the player fills in the spots it could not identify. A 3D model of the player’s work is generated on the fly, as an additional tool for identifying neural paths.
  4. Phylo: Phylo is a game that aims to decipher the human DNA and solve the multiple sequence alignment problem. The colored squares represent DNA nucleotides, and the game is using human pattern recognition to perform multiple sequence alignment. The data used in the game has already been run through computer algorithms, so the human players are actually optimizing the computer’s results.
  5. The Cure: The Cure works on developing a genomics-driven predictor of breast cancer prognosis. The mechanics are represented as a card game, in which the player tries to create the best hand.
  6. Citizen Sort: This game was developed by a group of researchers from Syracuse University. The Citizen Sort website is a collection of three different games that are used to classify and characterize different animal species. The players are asked to determine various characteristics of animals in photos. Players don’t need to know anything about each animal or what it is called, just use their powers of observation. This sorting allows researchers to identify and name the animals.
  7. Brain Flight: Just like EyeWire, Brain Flight also aims to help map the complicated connections and pathways in the brain and central nervous system. This game was developed by the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research. 

Research involves decoding several medical and scientific mysteries. Combining the fun of gaming with intricate interface and concepts can enable the players to come up with innovative solutions for even some of the most difficult puzzles and thus help to improve the scientific and medical communities. 

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