Videogames against Malaria
(April 26th, 2016) Spanish researchers at the Technical University of Madrid develop a Malaria "Candy Crush" game to research new diagnostic tools.
Shoot bubbles while helping research against malaria? It is possible with MalariaSpot Bubbles, an online game that launched on April 25th, World Malaria Day. Players analyse digitalised images of parasites to differentiate between the five species that cause malaria: Plasmodium falciparum (found worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas, killing one million people every year), P. vivax (found in Asia and Latin America; the most prevalent speices), P. ovale (found mostly in Africa), P. malariae (found worldwide; the only human malaria parasite with a three-day cycle in contrast to the two-day cycle of the other three malaria parasites) and P. knowlesi (found in Southeast Asia, infecting macaques).
“More than one thousand million people play videogames. More than 70% of them do it from their mobiles. At the same time, thousands of people die because of diseases which weren’t diagnosed. What if we could connect these two realities?”, the team behind MalariaSpot Bubbles, based at the Biomedical Imaging Technologies Group at the Technical University of Madrid - International Excellence Campus Moncloa wondered.
“Currently, ‘the gold standard’ for malaria diagnosis worldwide consists of first detecting parasites and then counting the number of parasites in blood smears, manually through a microscope - usually the more the parasites the more severe the infection. An average of 100 images has to be visually checked by a specialist; a process that can take up to 30 minutes”, the game developers explain. “We believe that there is so much on-line talent out there that can be used to analyze malaria images (while you play a game, shooting at mosquitos and bubbles!)”.
Thus, MalariaSpot Bubbles not only allow players to learn, but also to participate in the research of new tools for collaborative diagnosis online. Part of the diagnostic protocol is to identify which of the five different species that cause malaria is present in the blood. "This is especially important to provide the proper treatment to the patients", says María Linares, researcher at Hospital 12 de Octubre and MalariaSpot biomedical specialist. The aim of MalariaSpot Bubbles is to research if remote diagnosis could be performed collectively by non-experts, expanding the concept initiated four years ago with the first version of the game MalariaSpot.
Adapted from materials provided by Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, MalariaSpot, CDC
Picture: MalariaSpot Bubbles