Guest Post: Citizen Science – Crowd Sourcing Research

Crowd sourcing is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a method of gathering work, information or money by using crowds and putting out requests, usually over the internet to the masses.  It’s a far quicker and more effective way of getting what you wand and, in theory, promises a higher quality of work because it allows you to analyse the same data again and again to eliminate anomalies.  There have been a number of such projects coming into effect, and the proliferation of computer technology has meant that crowd sourcing is re-shaping the way we do scientific research.  What once took the computer power of huge banks of machines crunching numbers day and night can now be accomplished by the latent power of your idling computer.  Here are just a few examples of crowd sourced science in action.

Cell Slider

Cell Slider, set up by Cancer Research UK, is the first of its kind and encourages everyday people to pitch in on the search for the all-elusive cure for cancer.  Users are first given a crash course in identifying normal and cancerous cells in tissue samples examined under a microscope.  They’re then presented with a succession of images and asked what they can see, and whether those cells contain identifiable signs of cancer.  It’s a slow and labourious process, and it would take a team of scientists years to categorise such a huge data set. 

By allowing the public to get involved, even if each person only analyses a few slides, it frees up precious resources and allows that data to be sorted in a fraction of the time.  And here’s the real beauty of a crowd sourced model:  the same slides will be checked by a multitude of different people, so even if you make a mistake, it can be corrected for a little further down the line.  We’re all eager to see cancer made a thing of the past, and Cell Slider gives the general public the chance to do their part to make it a reality.

Folding@home is a unique idea, set up by a team at Stanford University, which gets the public involved in finding a cure for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and various cancers.  By lending your computer processor to the project and allowing their software to run on it, their hopes is to find out more about a biological process, called ‘protein folding’ in which proteins assemble themselves in a particular way to carry out their responsibilities in the human body.
However, diseases, including some cancers, occur when the proteins fail to ‘fold’ correctly.

Although scientists know the basics there is a long way to go before they can try and prevent this from happening and thus cure many life threatening illness.

By running the program on their computers, the public allows access to their computer’s complicated calculations which help the scientists gather important data which effectively helps them in their research.  The software runs on previous unused processing space so you won’t even notice it is working away.  Over 333,000 are already on board with the project and the scientists at the university hope this will increase over the next few months.

This has been set up especially to help raise money to fund scientists with their research projects.  The website, set up by major crowd sourcing community RocketHub allows the public to donate to what they consider worthwhile projects and allows the scientists to eventually carry out their work with all the donations given to them.

Science research can be a very expensive business and unless you are connected to a huge company or educational body, it can be very difficult to make your research dreams come true.  SciFlies is only one of many crowd sourcing websites for donating money and is already allowing projects to get underway.

This post was contributed by the bloggers at Cancer Research UK, this is a Charity very close to my heart.  Please visit the site for more information on breast cancer, or click here to make a donation.

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