The human genome is a sequence of 3,000 milions letters. Its sequence and folding in the space determine how our cells work. We know that in cancer cells the rearrangements of the genetic material (e.g. chromosome translocations) occur and modify the “original” sequence. As a consequence, the contact regions between different parts of the genome are modified possibly leading to alterations in the vital functions of the affected cells.
Almost all cancers are caused by or cause anomalies in the genetic material of the cells. But each cancer has its own different and specific rearrangements.
Genigma aims to study the genomic alterations in cancer cells. As a start, we will study breast cancer cells obtained from cell cultures in our laboratory. To analyse the differences between healthy and cancerous cells means to scan every inch of the DNA in these cells and compare it with the healty ones. But a machine can do this, can’t it? Yes, but it is not completely reliable. It has been shown that our eyes perform much better than machines in identifying visual patterns. For this very reason, scientists decided to tackle this scientific problem with the help of the citizens.
What are we going to do? Altogether we will design an application for smartphones that will allow citizens to participate in the common goal to build them a reference genome for the cancer cell line. Each player will analyse various small fragments of the cancer cells’ DNA, that correspond to real data obtained in the lab. The reference genome will be obtained joining together these small fragments that collectively the players have analysed. This concerted effort will help us to understand which parts of the genome may play a crucial role in cancer development.