New Method For Fighting Malaria: Enlist Gamers

Video games! They’re not just for killin’ people. You can also use them to kill malaria.

A recent study, published by a group of scientists in Spain, has concluded that a crowdsourced video game can be an effective way to identify and analyse malaria-causing parasites in the blood stream.

How? Easy. Get a bunch of people to play a game.

“This research tests the feasibility of a crowdsourced approach to malaria image analysis,” the scientists wrote. “In particular, we investigated whether anonymous volunteers with no prior experience would be able to count malaria parasites in digitized images of thick blood smears by playing a Web-based game.”

People had to work their way through a series of slides. For each slide, a subject had to identify and tag as many parasites as possible within one minute. Then they’d do it again.

“Over 1 month, anonymous players from 95 countries played more than 12,000 games and generated a database of more than 270,000 clicks on the test images,” the scientists wrote. “Results revealed that combining 22 games from nonexpert players achieved a parasite counting accuracy higher than 99%. This performance could be obtained also by combining 13 games from players trained for 1 minute.”

Their conclusion: games are awesome!

This research validates the online gaming approach for crowdsourced counting of malaria parasites in images of thick blood films. The findings support the conclusion that nonexperts are able to rapidly learn how to identify the typical features of malaria parasites in digitized thick blood samples and that combining the analyses of several users provides similar parasite counting accuracy rates as those of expert microscopists. This experiment illustrates the potential of the crowdsourced gaming approach for performing routine malaria parasite quantification, and more generally for solving biomedical image analysis problems, with future potential for telediagnosis related to global health challenges.

[via Jane McGonigal]