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Researchers Turn To Video Game To Help Decode Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- When you think of video games, you probably imagine a teenager playing around instead of doing homework.

But what if a video game could decode cancer and help advance the fight against breast cancer?

As CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, "Play to Cure: Genes in Space," which includes flying spaceships and zapping asteroids, was developed by scientists in Great Britain to help them decode massive volumes of genetic material from breast tumor samples.

"There is too much data to cope with, and we need human eyes and human brains to really understand it," said Dr. Kat Arney from Cancer Research U.K.

Cancer Research U.K. brought together dozens of programmers, told them the problem -- analyzing cancer genomes -- and locked them in a room to brainstorm until, a few days later, they had the developed the game.

The software converts gene patterns from more than 2,000 tumor samples into asteroids. The game is designed so that players mimic what scientists would do if they were looking for patterns in the DNA of breast cancer patients. Mapping a route through the asteroid field actually translates into data that help researchers find the mutations that lead to cancer.

"Every route you fly will be fed back to our scientists in Cambridge and will help them hone in on key parts of the genome that they need to be looking at to understand how cancer cells are growing, how they're going wrong," Arney said.

Scientists say early experiments show gaming results have been up to 15 percent more accurate than current methods used to analyze data.

"Genes in Space" is available for free for both Apple and Android smartphones as well as iPads.

So next time you tell your teenager to get off their video game, you might hear, "I'm curing cancer."

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