Forget Wordle, this puzzle game could help beat cancer

Using video games to help with scientific research isn't a new concept, but it can be an effective tool when handled properly. Such is the hope for Genigma, a new puzzle game developed by researchers from the Centre Nacional D'Anàlisi Genòmica (CNAG) and the Centro de Regulación Genómica (CRG) in Barcelona, in collaboration with game development studio X-Lives Interactive S.L. Its purpose is essentially to outsource help for cancer research by having players solve puzzles, with the solutions to those puzzles acting as data points.

Per its creators at the CRG, Genigma is the result of two and a half years worth of work from various teams, with over 500 individuals – from artists and students to journalists and medical professionals – coming together through various workshops to make it happen.

Genigma is available to download now from the App Store and Google Play as a free download. Be aware that, because of the nature of the game's intention for research purposes, it will be collecting User Content, Usage, and Diagnostics data from your device.

How does it work?

Each level in Genigma functions as a part of a larger puzzle, with millions of pieces needing to come together to provide information that will assist with creating a more effective way to update genome reference maps. In other words it's like the medical research version of CAPTCHA, but instead of identifying buses or street signs to help an AI learn how to more accurately identify those objects, you're helping an AI learn how to better map out cancer cell lines and, theoretically, assist with future treatment research.

For the next three months (through April of 2022), Genigma will be running an ongoing challenge every Monday, and focuses on the T-47D breast cancer cell line. Each Monday a new set of genome fragments from the cell line will be added, with players needing to rearrange those fragments to complete the puzzle. Genigma's research team estimates that, if as little as 30-thousand players were to solve 50 or so puzzles apiece, it could be enough data to reveal a reference map of 20-thousand different genes from the T-47D cell line.

Assuming the first cell line research map campaign goes well, Genigma will likely begin adding other cell lines in the future.