Crowd-sourcing game could be gateway to disease diagnosis

UCLA researchers have developed on online game that enables players to separate healthy blood cells from malaria-infected ones, giving non-scientists the ability to identify the parasite almost as accurately as a trained professional.

The application of crowd-sourcing in medicine has increased with the aid of the internet and distributed computing resources. In one example, players of an online protein-folding game called Foldit figured out the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme that previously stumped experts. The UCLA researchers said that the online game for malaria diagnosis could lead to a practical solution to a lack of trained eyes able to diagnose the disease, Fierce Biotech reports.

"I believe that, similar to other very innovative ideas, one of the major challenges will be the skepticism of traditional microscopists, pathologists and clinical laboratory personnel, not to mention malaria experts, who will initially view with suspicion a gaming approach in malaria diagnostics," Karin Nielsen, a professor of infectious diseases in the department of pediatrics at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine and the author of the study, said, according to Fierce Biotech.

With malaria infections impacting more than 200 million people around the world every year, the volume of possible cases can be overwhelming in some locations. The online game could empower nearly anyone to help solve the issue.

"It is a very revolutionary proposal and it might take a few clinical studies in the field to document the efficacy of this platform in order to convince traditional microbiologists and other infectious disease colleagues," Nielsen said, according to Fierce Biotech.