How to Game a Cure

Oct 1, 2010, 3:45 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

With the Myelin Repair Foundation’s Breakthrough to Cures online game taking place next week, we’ve been fortunate enough to have some great support recently from our friends in the media when it comes to promoting this innovative idea for crowdsourcing ideas to improve medical research and development.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of having your voice heard (and listened to) by one of the most pioneering organizations focused on radically transforming R&D, check out these links or read the fantastic post we’ve included below by our friend Faisal Qureshi, who runs the blog Meaningfuluses:

Online Gaming Event Seeks to Spur Search for Cures to Intractable Diseases (E-Week)

Gaming Health Care Breakthroughs (Nextgov)

Foundation uses gaming to inspire rad R&D thinking (Fierce Biotech)

How to Game a Cure

By Faisal Qureshi

9/27/2010

Original article link: http://www.fiercebiotechresearch.com/story/foundation-hopes-gaming-can-inspire-rad-r-d-thinking/2010-09-14

Medicine and social media are just getting to know each other. The engaged patient is shaking hands with Facebook, Twitter and a mountain of medical websites. As the patient is busy consuming and disseminating these media inlets, how does one get to retroactively participate?

That's what the folks at the Institute for the Futureare trying to partly answer. Together with the Myelin Repair Foundationand the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, they've developed breakthroughstocures.org– a web-based game that tries to solve neurological disease by relying on sourcing shared participatory discussion.

Their idea being that clear and original thinking can surface to the top of drug discovery for such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis. Discussion from a crowd who are unrelated to the research itself, can yield agreeable answers or predictions. This can then shape future drug discovery patterns and processes.

Earlier this month, I was given a tour of the The Foresight Engine Game. If you understand how to use Twitter, you're on your way to playing. As with tweets, you respond to a game scenario, with a card, of 140 characters or less. Everyone is given the same scenario question. Players then decide to respond positively, negatively or investigate further via their chosen card category.

Responses are seen by everyone and it's up to you to followup on another player's response to a question or create your own in hopes of gathering a following. Points are given to the number of followers, your level of engagement or if others consider your idea as interesting.

Is the wisdom of a crowd enough?
Justin Beiber has 5.4 million twitter followers. Promoting his videoson twitter may increase his music sales. He garners his follower's attention on the perception that his music is worth buying into. The theory of twitter is that the ones with the highest number of followers change societal perceptions through short bursts of attention over time. But can we put this kind of retention towards innovation? According to a recent Newsweek article, Microsoft's Nathan Myhrvold said, “Today almost everyone in the [Silicon] Valley will tell you there is too much ‘me-tooism,’ too much looking for a gold rush and not enough people who are looking to solve really hard problems.”

The collective problem:

Can the wisdom of Foresight Engine Game players, who are themselves outside the research community, innovate healthcare research?

Can it yield a better way to research for cures in the future? The game was designed to give us these answers. Better yet, it will begin to answer these questions. There's really no failure on the part of their objectives, if you understand that social game play can profoundly keep one's attention and engagement. Thanks to Zynga, there's a reason we're at the watercooler chatting up on how to grow pumpkins. The game's theory is that repeated micro bursts of attention (cards) gives the player a better understanding of Multiple Sclerosis drug research. Especially if you realize the mass clutter of information (and misinformation) that today's patient is being asked to sort through.

Ideas to task.

If you put enough smart people in a room, in this case a virtual room, good things are bound to happen. But turning brainstorms, even with popular follower sentiment, to a deployable drug research model that works is difficult. The Foresight Engine Game takes care of harvesting ideas but it's up to the foundation sponsors to carry it through. Drug discovery is a multi-year approach taking close to $1 billionto get to market. Mixing gameplay, social media and healthcare is going to be an exciting new arena. I recently tweetedon Mark Pinkus, Zynga's CEO who said, "Health is waiting for someone to turn it into a consumer product." It's too early to speculate if social game play can simplify the drug to market dilemma, but it's clear that patient engagement is going to be a required ingredient to the future of medicine.

The Foresight Engine Game will be launching to the public from October 7th to the 8th.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.