Online Gaming Event Seeks to Spur Search for Cures to Intractable Diseases

The Myelin Repair Foundation will hold an online gaming event this fall to foster a conversation among academics, doctors and patients about innovative ways to find cures for as-yet incurable diseases.

Nonprofit medical research foundation The Myelin Repair Foundation will host a real-time online gaming event Oct. 7 and 8 and Nov. 9 and 10 as part of its Breakthrough to Cures initiative to promote collaboration between the medical field and academia to increase the number of cures for illnesses.

MRF focuses on accelerating myelin repair therapeutics for multiple sclerosis. The nonprofit research firm IFTF (Institute for the Future) will collaborate with MRF on the project.

According to MRF, $90 billion is spent worldwide yearly on medical research, yet few cures are found. "Our view is that the problem can largely be attributed to the growing disconnect between academic research and the industry," Scott Johnson, MRF president, said in a statement. "Our goal is to bridge that gap."

In the game, set in 2020, participants will view a two-minute scenario, such as contamination from a neurological disease, and then write a short paragraph of 140 characters on how to solve the medical problem in the scenario while also contributing ideas on the future of medical innovation and research.

"This is really a core part of our game philosophy, to use the possibilities of the future to unlock the possibilities of the present," Jane McGonigal, IFTF game designer, creator and producer, wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK.

"We're creating an online environment where it will be possible to think more imaginatively and more boldly about how to speed up the process of making medical breakthroughs and getting new cures to market," McGonigal said. She compared using online gaming to solve the world's problems with the strategic games that take place in the corporate world.

MRF calls this teamwork between health care and academia its ARC (accelerated research collaboration) model.

"The evolution of the ARC model over the last six years has taught us that there are many, many discrete places in the value chain of research and drug discovery that can be accelerated," Johnson said.

Participants in the game will include researchers, doctors, chief science officers, policy makers, patients, inventors and advocates.

"The game doesn't reward coming up with your own idea; instead it rewards building on someone else's idea, or inspiring someone else to build on yours," McGonigal explained. "So you can only earn idea points and unlock achievements by having a creative conversation. This is really crucial. You can't just brainstorm in a vacuum."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio will fund the game.

"The current model used for developing effective, lifesaving disease treatments is not keeping pace with scientific discovery," Nancy Barrand, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio, said in a statement. "Gaming is the perfect tool to help foster the type of unconventional thinking that is necessary to create radical change in health care and accelerate the speed at which treatments are delivered."

Other companies have also turned to gaming to promote health initiatives. In June, health care provider Humana introduced an iPhone app called Colorfall to improve cognitive fitness.