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Sanitarium: A Game That Hopes To Cure Tuberculosis

Can you hack it?

Have you heard of Project Sanitarium [official site]? It's a game designed by a group of Scottish university students which makes it possible for players to virtually test treatments for sufferers of tuberculosis. Here's how it works:

The aim of the game is to treat as many TB-infected people as possible using scant resources. Players make strategic choices about how to allocate their resources, while three smaller mini-games explore how the drug treatments work. But behind that is a mathematical model developed At St. Andrews, which they want to test. It predicts how the disease is spread, taking into account the pathology of tuberculosis and how that impacts different cell types in terms of growth rate and susceptibility. The team hope this could eventually help inform the development of later clinical trials.

The cost to fund a clinical trial for tuberculosis treatment is an astounding $50m, says University of St. Andrews professor Stephen Gillespie - an impossible cost for the medical community to pay out when faced with up to 100 combinations of drugs. Teaming up with students at Abertay University and St. Andrews, Gillespie's challenge was finding an alternative route that could cut costs down.

"We can't afford to do that many clinical trials," he told the BBC. "So if we can have a virtual clinical trial that tests the hypothesis whether that will work, we can select a smaller number of studies that are really worth doing and worth investing in."

Science has tapped players problem-solving skills to help with actual research before in quite a few games, including protein fold 'em up Foldit and neuron map 'em up EyeWire.

Sanitarium been touring events and competitions, but isn't finished just yet. You can download a work-in-progress build from its site, or check it out in action below:

Cover image for YouTube video

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Emily Gera