Researchers at UCLA have created an online crowdsourcing game designed to let players help doctors in key areas of the world speed the lengthy process of distinguishing malaria-infected red blood cells from healthy ones.
For instance, the researchers hope that users of the game can help in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria accounts for some 20% of all childhood deaths, The disease, which affects about 210 million people annually worldwide, accounts for almost 40% of all hospitalizations throughout Africa.
Typically, malaria is diagnosed by a trained pathologist peering through a conventional light microscope. The time consuming process can overwhelm researchers in countries that have high numbers of cases and limited resources, UCLA researchers said.
The researchers also noted that a significant percentage of cases reported in sub-Sahara Africa are false positives, which lead to unnecessary and costly treatments and hospitalizations.
The crowdsourcing game, which is free to play, works off the assumption that large groups of non-experts can be trained to recognize microscopic images of infectious disease cells with the accuracy of trained pathologists.
So far mostly undergraduate UCLA volunteers have played the game, and have collectively been able to accurately diagnose malaria-infected red blood cells within 1.25% of the accuracy of a pathologist performing the same task, resesarchers said.
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