Thousands of internet users, of all ages, are playing an online game all around the world to help researchers fast track the fight against the Alzheimer’s disease.
Stall Catchers, launched nearly a year ago, has inspired over 5,500 players worldwide to become citizen scientists and help accelerate Alzheimer’s research, the team behind the game announced at the British Science Festival.
Dr Pietro Michelucci from the Human Computation Institute, who led the development of Stall Catchers, said: “Some of our best players are 80-something grandparents and 8-year-old grandchildren. We designed the game so that even early stage Alzheimer’s patients can contribute directly to their own potential treatment.”
Meet two of the players
Mr Michael Carparo, from Michigan, US, is a 69 years old retired chemical engineer, also a competitive runner. He helped testing Stall Catchers when the game was still in development, months before it was released to the general public, and has continued to play regularly since.
Speaking to i, he said “I play virtually every day, usually about 60-90 minutes per day.”
When asked about what makes him such an avid player, he added “I like the fact that we can speed up this important research, and learn some things along the way. It is a worthy endeavour. I have friends who’ve lost parents, relatives to Alzheimer’s.”
He noted that the fact that it is a game also helps. “I enjoy clawing my way to the top of the skill bar. Also some of the friendly competition with fellow stall-catchers.”
Ms Emile Varkuleviciute, from Lithuania, is a 15 years old student. She started playing the game about two months ago.
She said “I play the game about once a week. It is a more interesting way to pass time than checking facebook. I like the fact that I am helping others, like the scientists and the people suffering from the Alzheimer’s.”
She added “The game is also fun. I showed it to my younger brother. Now he has started playing too.”
Accelerate Alzheimer’s research
The army of volunteer citizen scientists helped a small team of professional scientists complete the world’s first crowd-sourced analysis of an Alzheimer’s study in two months. The same analysis would have taken a year to complete without the help from the volunteers.
The game asks its players to “catch” stalls which are clogged small blood vessels. Scientists suspect that these stalls may be causing the blood to flow at a slower rate through the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s than in healthy individuals.
In the first completed analysis, the players of Stall Catchers helped researchers work out how many stalls are there in brains and where they are relative to the plaques, which are lumps of a sticky protein associated with Alzheimer’s.
In an ongoing analysis, the players are helping to understand the role of a high fat diet on the development of the stalls in the brain in Alzheimer’s.
Commenting on the results, Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Due to decades of underfunding, research into dementia still lags far behind other conditions. It’s therefore great to be able to harness technology and the brainpower of the general public to help us catch up.”
Join the revolution
If you are feeling inspired and would like join this citizen science movement, please visit http://stallcatchers.com. After watching a short video tutorial, you can start catching stalls and helping the fight against Alzheimer’s.
This article was written by Gary Zhang, a British Science Association Media Fellow at i. and reader at University College London
The article was originally published in inews.