Can citizen science be used to solve Alzheimer’s?

alzheimerI’m cautiously optimistic about any positive news on the Alzheimer’s research front, yet deeply discouraged by the agonizingly slow rate of progress. I recently spoke with colleague Pietro Michelucci about an exciting new effort to dramatically accelerate progress by crowdsourcing the image analysis.

One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is reduced flow of blood to the brain. This is a promising lead which scientists have known about from the outset, but is difficult to get a handle on for one simple reason: it takes an alert human to spot the abnormality in a brain scan. With hundreds of scans generated per research subject, and thousands of research subjects to be scanned and scrutinized, researchers estimate it would take a savvy team many decades to analyze all the scans needed to research solutions.

Here’s where citizen science, crowdsourcing and human computation come into play. An initiative has formed to create an online venue where volunteers can quickly learn to spot the abnormalities in the brain scans, and at their convenience access any number of actual scans to view and tag accordingly. Volunteers around the world can thus significantly increase capacity of the research team while dramatically accelerating progress.

See project website WeCureALZ for full description and to pre-register if you are interested in becoming a beta tester and/or citizen science volunteer when the time comes.

See the fabulous article in this month’s Science magazine co-authored by Pietro Michelucci, doctor of Cognitive Science and Mathematical Psychology and director of the Human Computation Institute (HCI), and Cornell professor of Natural Resources and director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Janis L. Dickenson:

 “The power of crowds: Combining humans and machines can help tackle increasingly hard problems.” by Michelucci and Dickenson for Science, Jan 2015

Michelucci has teamed up with collaborators at Cornell, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and WiredDifferently to develop WeCureALZ.

I first met Dr. Michelucci at a Human Computation Summit which he spearheaded in Washington, DC, and now serve as a member of the External Faculty of his Human Computation Institute.

Alzheimer’s Facts & Figures
Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US — the only cause of death in the top 10 that is not preventable, curable, or slowable.  Afflicts 5.3 million Americans at a cost of $226 billion, plus 17.9 billion hours in unpaid care provided by family and friends. Figures expected to triple by 2050.
Every 67 seconds someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s.
(Source: Facts and Figures)

This hits close to home for me personally, as it does for millions of others who have lost a loved one to this horrible disease.
Currently 1 in 10 Americans has a family member with Alzheimer’s. 1 in 3 knows someone with Alzheimer’s.
(Source: Use of Funds).

I have already pre-registered on the WeCureALZ website and look forward to participating, and hope you will as well.

More articles about WeCureALZ in:

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