In a world first, Cancer Research UK has launched a new interactive website that will allow the public to analyse real cancer data, in a bid to accelerate research into the deadly disease.

The so-called citizen science project is simply designed to tap into the vast potential manpower of the general public to boost research outside of the laboratory and free up scientists to focus on other areas.

Cancer samples are given stains that will highlight certain molecules, which could help shed light on how a patient will respond to a particular treatment. 

This is a very slow process, and the analysis is mostly undertaken by trained pathologists.

But now, for the first time, real cancer data has been transformed into a format that can easily be analysed by non-experts, via CR UK's new website Cell Slider.

"If we can get millions of people on Cell Slider, we hope to condense what normally takes years of research into months,” said Professor Paul Pharoah, a Cancer Research UK scientist from the University of Cambridge, who helped create the site.

The website is based on a simple game of snap, in which participants have to identify cancer cells - initially just breast cancer cells - by looking for irregular shapes, and then recording how many have been stained and to what degree.

Well of data

Researchers will then look at this information for trends between types of cells and treatment response, ultimately creating a huge body of data that it is hoped will speed up the development of personalised therapy.

If successful, the project will be expanded to include other cancers, to help determine how they respond to different treatments. 

"We hoped that this personalised medicine approach would be a reality in years to come, but this computer programme could make this a reality sooner than any of us had imagined possible," Pharaoh said.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, has also expressed excitement over the project. "It’s another example of how the UK is one step ahead of the rest of the world in coming up with creative ways to solve scientific problems," he said.