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Playing to win: Gamers will compete to save lives

TB - ShutterstockAn update for a biomedical computer game that casts gamers in the role of citizen biomedical researchers launches this week. And winners of the game don’t just get a high score or an opportunity to play a harder game at the next level as in traditional games: They have a chance to save lives.

In coming months, players of Eterna Medicine will try to design a molecule of RNA that can help diagnose tuberculosis, which infects a third of the world’s population and kills about 1.5 million people each year.

Health providers lack a simple blood test that can detect active infection in many patients, especially in remote villages. In 2014, the World Health Organization asked researchers to come up with a blood test, and Purvesh Khatri, PhD, a Stanford assistant professor of medicine, and colleagues responded with a blood test that measures the expression levels of three different human genes in response to infection by the TB bacterium.

Then, at a dinner at the 2015 Big Data in Biomedicine Conference at Stanford, Khatri and Eterna co-creator Rhiju Das, PhD, happened to sit side by side. “I've always been a big fan of Das’ work, since the first time I heard him talk,” said Khatri. They began discussing how Das engages citizen scientists to design molecules and Khatri uses public data to find new ways to diagnose illnesses. “That led to a very exciting discussion about how awesome it would be if we could sequentially merge the two approaches — using public data to find a diagnostic marker of the disease and then use the public's help to develop a test.”

Ultimately, the two agreed to engage Eterna's 100,000 players to design a special RNA molecule that will calculate a ratio among three molecules expressed by possible TB patients, revealing whether they have active TB. In principle, the RNA molecule test can go on a simple stick test — like a pregnancy test.

But how can a molecule do math? See our press release for more details.

Previously: Non-scientist video gamers’ RNA insights captured in peer-reviewed publicationGamers: The new face of scientific research? and Mob science: Video game, EteRNA, lets amateurs advance RNA research
Image by Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

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