Anne Kiltie and her team here in the CRUK Oxford Centre are working on bladder cancer, looking at new ways of combining radiotherapy treatments with drugs that hijack how cancer cells handle damage to their DNA. But they’re also interested in ‘biomarkers’ – molecules found in cancer cells that offer a red flag for how a cell may behave based on the amount produced by the cell, or in the case of molecules that drive cancer growth, whether or not these marker molecules are inappropriately ‘switched-on’. This interest stems from an important treatment decision facing people whose bladder cancer has begun to spread into the muscle of the bladder wall – should they opt for surgery to remove their bladder, or a course of radiotherapy? Both treatments have their challenges and long term implications for patients. “It’s actually a life-changing event for them,” Anne explains. But information to help make this decision is lacking.
Crucially, Anne’s team are scouring tumour samples for biomarkers that could indicate whether a patient will respond better to surgery or radiotherapy. Something she hopes will help make the treatment decision a little easier, and ultimately improve survival for people with bladder cancer in the future. But to do this they need to test a lot of potential biomarkers in a lot of bladder cancer samples. And this is where Anne – along with other researchers working on different types of cancer – hopes that the launch of Reverse The Odds can help.
“We have over 800 samples from more than 300 bladder cancer patients,” says Anne. The team takes tiny pieces of these tumour samples – known as ‘cores’ – and sets them in blocks of wax so they can cut extremely thin slices of the samples to image on a microscope. The researchers take these slices and use special dyes to highlight key proteins found inside the cells that the team think may make good biomarkers for bladder cancer. And it’s these coloured images that will feature in the game.
The true power of Citizen Science comes from the sheer number of people analysing the samples. Anne told CRUK that analysing the images largely depends on pattern recognition, something the human eye is particularly good at. But you don’t need to be a “qualified pathologist or experienced scientist” to do this, she added. “Normally three of us would look at the images, but the great impact that Citizen Scientists have is that rather than just having three of them, we potentially have thousands of them, so any slight variations can be ironed out.”
The images will also been seen by lots of people, and the more people that play the game the more accurate the consensus will be. And as Anne points out, there are some important accuracy checks in place along the way: “We are going to score 10 per cent of the samples ourselves to check we get the same results as our Citizen Scientists. We’ve already seen encouraging results from our early tests of the game,” she adds.
Reverse The Odds has been commissioned by Channel 4 as part of Stand Up To Cancer, and was developed in collaboration with Maverick Television’s multiplatform team and Chunk.
Source CRUK Science Blog