Archive for the ‘zooniverse’ tag
This project is part of our Back to School 2013 round-up of projects. Read more about them!
Breast cancer is the single most common cancer in women worldwide with roughly 1 in 8 women developing the disease each year. Chances are, a friend or family member is coping with this diagnosis right now. Following Angelina Jolie’s announcement earlier this year about her family’s struggle with breast cancer and her treatment choices, advances in biomedical research and personalized medicine increasingly hold the promise of a day when cancer is cured. How do scientists find the clues buried within tumor samples?
Cell Slider, a collaboration between Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse, is the first citizen scientist project whose goal is to speed up cancer research by enlisting citizen scientists to analyze real tumor samples. According to Professor Andrew Handby, a CRUK scientist from the University of Leeds who helped develop Cell Slider, “Computers can only go so far – they can pick up obvious trends but only the human eye can spot subtleties that have, in the past, lead to important serendipitous discoveries… Cell Slider makes our data accessible – it’s not just for scientists and computer geeks – everyone can play their part in curing cancer.”
Ideal for secondary school science classes, Cell Slider is a real-life citizen scientist project that uses the same methods researchers use everyday in the laboratory to identify cancer cells. Students are introduced to some of the common core principles in life sciences, including basic cell types and shapes, while developing analytical and critical thinking skills. You don’t have to be a scientist to participate in this project; simple mouse clicks help researchers around the world find new cancer treatments buried in simple tumor samples.
During a brief tutorial, students are introduced to the three cell types typically seen on the microscope slides (white blood cells, tissue cells, and cancer cells), taught to identify normal and cancer cells based on shape and staining, then asked to analyze real images of breast cancer tumors. A special yellow dye that sticks to oestrogen receptor (ER) helps identify cells with excessive ER and candidates for cancer treatments using hormonal therapies such as tamoxifen. Once the irregularly shaped, yellow-stained, cancer cells are identified you estimate their number and how strongly they are stained through a matching game. Using this data, researchers are beginning to understand the connections between molecules found on cancer cells and the effects of common treatments on the outcome of the disease.
“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,” said Professor Paul Pharoah, a CRUK scientist from Cambridge University who helped develop Cell Slider. “This will enable us to match up women with the right cancer drugs based on their tumor type. We hope that this personalized medicine approach would be a reality in years to come, but this computer program could make it a reality sooner than any of us had imagined possible.”
Since its launch in October 2012, more than 860,000 citizen scientists from around the world have analyzed over 1.7 million images. Could we be just your mouse click away from a cure?
Photo : Cell Slider
Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.
We couldn’t have asked for a better citizen science project to start off October, a month often associated with Halloween and all things spooky.
Introducing Bat Detective, a project that enlists citizen scientists to screen sound recordings of bats to classify their distinct calls. Bats are nocturnal, making them very difficult to spot with the naked eye, so a growing number of bat surveys are being done acoustically instead. Bat calls “leak” information into the environment each night through echolocation, which bats use to sonically navigate, socialize, and locate prey in the dark.
Citizen scientists from all over the world have already recorded about 3,000 hours of acoustic surveys. Bat Detective has split the surveys in 4-second snapshots, so there are actually millions of files to be sorted. With only a few scientists, it would be an incredibly tedious, perhaps even impossible task. However, with the help of citizen scientists like you, the job will get done much more quickly!
These classifications will be used to create a new algorithm to help researchers easily extract information from their sound recordings and more closely monitor threatened bat populations. Bats are an integral part of their local ecosystems, but one in every five species of bat will face extinction over the next 50 years.
“Bats carry out lots of ‘ecosystem services’ like pollination and seed dispersal,” said Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London and Zoological Society of London. “They also eat masses of insects. Losing bats means that all those services are degraded,” added Jones, whose Bat Detective project was made possible through Zooniverse , a popular online citizen science platform.
“The idea of Bat Detective really caught the imagination of the Zooniverse team, and when we heard the bat calls we were sold,” said Chris Lintott, director of Zooniverse. “The rapid sequence of calls that make up a feeding call, and which means the bat has found its prey, is once heard and never forgotten.”
Bats are also incredibly vulnerable to climate change, since their hibernation and migration patterns depend largely on weather patterns, so the success or failure of their local populations often serve as a early warning sign of the failing health of the local ecosystem as a whole. Need we say more?
Be sure to sign up for this sonically exciting and scintillating citizen science scheme! While you’re at it, check out our other bat-related citizen science projects in our Project Finder. You can help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with acoustic bat monitoring or identify Indian flying fox bats with the South Asian Bat Monitoring Program.
Coming soon: a collection of Halloween-themed citizen science projects. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled!