This file photo taken on March 18, 2011 shows a woman, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, walking in a corridor in a retirement house in Angervilliers, eastern France. For decades now, soaring population growth and ageing rates have been forecast to ignite a global explosion of Alzheimer's, the memory- and freedom-robbing disease afflicting mainly 65-plussers. But an unexpected, and hopeful, trend may be emerging. (AFP/Sastien BOZON)
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- A new online science game, called Stall Catchers, allows the general public to contribute to Alzheimer's disease research and help researchers search for a cure.
Developed by the Human Computation Institute, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, and other institutions, the game is part of the EyesOnALZ citizen science project that allow participants to look at movies of real blood vessels in mouse brains and search for clogged capillaries, or stalls, where blood is no longer flowing.
Previous research suggests that capillary stalls could be a key culprit in Alzheimer's disease.
Data analysis in Alzheimer's disease research, such as searching for stalls, is a time-consuming task that can cause a single research question to take up to a year to answer in the lab. The EyesOnALZ project aims to accelerate the analysis of these data with the help of citizen scientists playing Stall Catchers so that researchers can find targets for treatment of Alzheimer's faster.
"Today, we have a handful of lab experts putting their eyes on the research data," Pietro Michelucci, principal investigator for EyesOnALZ, was quoted as saying by a news release from UC Berkeley. "If we can enlist thousands of people to do that same analysis by playing an online game, then we have created a huge force multiplier in our fight against this dreadful disease."
The citizen science approach was developed by physicist Andrew Westphal, a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. It was first used in a project called Stardust@home, in which more than 30,000 amateur scientists have carried out more than 100 million searches to identify interstellar dust in collectors returned by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Stardust comet sampling mission.
Stardust@home led to the discovery of seven particles of likely interstellar origin, reported in the journal Science in 2014.
Referring to Stall Catchers, Westphal said "we are optimistic that this citizen science approach will be similarly successful in accelerating research aimed at finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease."
Already tested by more than 100 people, including volunteers from well-known citizen science projects such as Stardust@home, Stall Catchers will be open to everyone and is free to play on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. "Stall Catchers will not only be a breakthrough in how we do Alzheimer's research, but it will also empower anyone to directly contribute to fighting a disease that affects them or their loved ones," Michelucci said.