You can now help scientists tackle dementia by playing on your smartphone. Sea Hero Quest, which launches today (4 May) for Android and iOS devices, will provide data that will help researchers better understand how diseases like Alzheimer's affect the brain.
Sea Hero Quest follows the story of a young man who has to sail the ocean recovering his father's lost memories. Rather than being given points on a map to follow, players must navigate the world themselves using methods that test their memory and orientations skills, such as following landmarks and shooting flares.
According to medical research charity Alzheimer's Research UK, a loss of navigation skills and spatial awareness is one of the earliest detectable symptoms of dementia. However, there's currently no way for medical professionals to determine whether a person is losing their ability to find their way around due to the disease or through natural ageing.
Gaming for good
By playing Sea Hero Quest, researchers hope to create a database of anonymous data about how the healthy human brain navigates, which will then help them determine what causes navigational cognition to go wrong for people suffering from the disease. The more people who play the game, the more valuable data will be created which can then be used by researchers.
The game has been created by UK-based studio Glitchers in partnership with Deutsche Telekom. Data generated from the game will be analysed by researchers at the University College London and the University of East Anglia, supported by Alzheimer's Research UK.
It's hoped the app will make use of the estimated three billion hours people spend gaming each week collectively; by playing Sea Hero Quest for just two minutes, players will generate same amount of data would take scientists five hours to create under lab conditions, its creators claim.
According to data from the Alzheimer's Society, there are currently more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. By 2050, it's estimated the disease will affect 135 million people worldwide.
Hilary Evans, the charity's chief executive, said: "We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before. The data set that Deutsche Telekom's Sea Hero Quest generates is truly unprecedented, until now these kind of investigations took years to coordinate and at best gave us a snap shot of how a very small sample of volunteers behaved.
"Providing the research community with access to an open source data set of this nature, at this scale, in such a short period of time is exactly the kind of innovation required to unlock the next breakthrough in dementia research."