healthHealth and Medicine

You Can Help Cancer Research Just By Playing A Puzzle Game


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJan 28 2022, 16:00 UTC
Gameplay image of GENIGMA on a smartphone. Image Credit: CRG/CNAG-CRG

Gameplay image of GENIGMA on a smartphone. Image Credit: CRG/CNAG-CRG

By simply playing a smartphone game called GENIGMA, you can contribute to breast cancer research. How? By solving puzzles, users create new maps of how mutated genes might be organized in cancer cells.

These maps are very important to genomic investigations into cancer. Currently, a major limitation is the lack of reference maps. The player, simply by solving puzzles, can help create new maps of possibilities faster and more efficiently than other methods.


The game is available on iOS and Android in four languages: English, Spanish, Catalan, and Italian.

For 2 and a half years, researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG), and game professionals have worked to develop this game.

The puzzles are simple – you move stuff around until you get a high score, and the scientists ask a very short commitment from the players. Just take part in at least 50 puzzles to make an impact.

“Anyone with a smartphone from anywhere in the world can download GENIGMA for free and make a direct contribution to research, lending their logic and dexterity to the service of science,” Elisabetta Broglio, citizen science facilitator at the CRG, said in a statement.


“GENIGMA will analyze the solutions provided by the players as a collective and not as individuals, and will take advantage of creative solutions impossible to find with deterministic algorithms.”

In recent decades, it became evident that one of the main limitations of science is the sheer volume of data that needs to be analyzed. Computers can work fast, but often without the skills humans naturally have. For this reason, citizen science projects have become popular in bridging the gap. 

For the next 90 days, the team is launching a weekly campaign. Each Monday, they will introduce new genome fragments from the T-47D breast cancer cell line.

The first genome fragments will be from chromosome 17, which contains a high number of breast cancer-related genes including BRCA1. Mutations on BRCA1 have been associated with about 40 percent of inherited breast cancer.


“Cell lines are responsible for the discovery of vaccines, chemotherapies for cancer or IVF for infertility. This makes them a pillar of modern biology,” explained ICREA Research Professor Marc A. Marti-Renom, with dual affiliation at the CRG and CNAG-CRG and whose research underpins GENIGMA.

“However, the lack of genome reference maps limits current scientific progress. It’s like asking people to navigate modern cities using maps from the past. With the help of other people, we can update these maps, which will allow us to make fast progress in breast cancer research.”

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