2,528 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Need of something to do in your spare time? How about contributing to cutting-edge research or diagnosing deadly diseases, all while playing free online games?
Making the most of gamification and input from the crowd, a number of researchers are attempting to see whether crowdsourcing can help make groundbreaking discoveries in the healthcare field.
One of the earliest players in the field was Foldit, which got its start in 2008. A research team at the University of Washington created the puzzle game challenging players to ‘fold’ proteins in an attempt to find the best protein structures for certain functions. A recent challenge, for example, had users fold proteins to help find the cure of sepsis, also known as blood poisoning.
Players folded the proteins in order to increase protein-sugar binding interactions. Sugar molecules, the challenge description states, are coated on many human pathogens. The hope is that by increasing the number of hydrogen bond interactions with the sugar, proteins that fight off sepsis will be able to better capture the pathogens. The competition is now closed, and the results will be coming out soon.
When Foldit started, it was not a guarantee that crowdsourcing the shapes of proteins would work. Encouraged by some early successes, however, the team continued to build the community around the game and has run over six hundred unique contests to date. By emphasizing scoring and leaderboards, the team behind the game has been able to create a competitive environment that encourages players to keep coming back.
Foldit, of course, is not the only game that employs crowdsourcing for healthcare. UCLA’s Ozcan Research Group is helping to identify cells infected with malaria, a disease that affects around half a billion people in the world each year. The puzzle the group created asks players to examine a number of red blood cells and to identify the ones that show signs of the infection. The Ozcan team claims that crowdsourcing the diagnosis is “within 1.25% of the diagnostic decisions made by a trained professional.”
Phylo is yet another crowdsourcing game, dealing with DNA multiple sequence alignment (MSA). The way sequences of DNA are arranged can give scientists clues about evolutionary mutations and the sources of some genetic diseases. Usually, MSA is calculated using complex algorithms, which poses problems for researches who do not have access to expensive machinery.
Researchers at McGill University and Nokia were able to turn MSA into a puzzle game, asking the crowd to find the optimal alignment for each sequence. Players pair as many sequences – which are represented by colorful blocks – as they can, aiming to reach the top of the leaderboard. The researchers chronicled their successes in an open-access, peer-reviewed journal PloS ONE, which can be viewed here.
Of course, gaming is not the only way crowds are helping to improve medicine and healthcare. Crowdmapping, for example, has been used for pinpointing everything from disease outbreaks to electronic defibrillators. A number of crowdfunding platforms devoted to healthcare have sprung up in recent months, too.