Cambridge scientists ask public to help find cure for cancer

The Cell Slider site
Millions of computer users are being invited to contribute to cancer research using a new interactive website. Photo: Cancer Research UK

Millions of computer users are being invited to contribute to cancer research using a new interactive website. Cancer Research UK and scientists from Cambridge University have launched the "citizen science" project which allows members of the public to analyse real images of tumour samples.

Users are first guided through a tutorial which explains which cells to analyse and which ones to ignore. Once cancer cells have been identified by their irregular shape, users are asked to record how many have been stained yellow and how bright the colour is. They do this by clicking on another image that most closely matches the sample they are viewing. The information is fed back to researchers who look for correlations between cell types and treatment responses.

Professor Paul Pharoah, from Cambridge University, who helped develop Cell Slider, said:

"We're really excited to be involved in this world-first project and we're extremely eager to see what this can do for our research in the future.

"There is information that can transform cancer treatments buried in our data - we just need the manpower to unlock them. We've turned our data into something that can be accessed by anyone - you don't have to be a scientist to carry out this type of cancer research.

"If we can get millions of people on Cell Slider, we hope to condense what normally takes years of research into months."

The Cell Slider site
The Cell Slider site Credit: Cancer Research UK

"Eventually, we hope to be able to identify different types of breast, and other, cancers and find out how these different types respond to different treatments. This will enable us to match up women with the right cancer drugs based on their tumour type.

"We hoped that this personalised medicine approach would be a reality in years to come, but this computer programme could make this a reality sooner than any of us had imagined possible."

– Professor Paul Pharoah, Cambridge University

Initially, the project will focus on breast cancer samples. If the pilot trial is successful, Cell Slider will be expanded to include samples with patients with other types of cancers, and colours representing other biological markers. Each image of a tumour sample will be analysed by several people to ensure that accidental clicks are discounted.