From Stardust to Blood Stalls: How Interdisciplinary Citizen Science is Changing the Way We Do Research
How Interdisciplinary Citizen Science is
Changing the Way We Do Research
Eglė Marija Ramanauskaitė
FROM STARDUST TO BLOOD STALLS:
At the beginning of 2016 we started a project to breath new life into Alzheimer’s research being done at Cornell University (US) – in an unconventional, but game changing way. One year
later, we have an online game and more than 3000 volunteers catching blood stalls for science – that is logging week’s worth of lab annotation in a day.
The first ever citizen science project to support Alzheimer’s research – EyesOnALZ, was created at the Human Computation Institute, in collaboration with a network of researchers from the
fields of physics, neuroscience, computer science and molecular biology . Most importantly, we have built our first game – Stall Catchers, directly on another citizen science platform,
Stardust@home. This project – one of the first “volunteer thinking” projects – was established in 2006 to solve the close-to impossible task to analyze almost a million stacks of aerogel images
in search of just a few interstellar dust particles, brought back by the Stardust spacecraft . Almost by accident, Stardust@home became inspiration for a seemingly entirely different kind of
problem – the link between reduced blood flow in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease.
EyesOnALZ now unites researchers from the Human Computation Institute, Schaffer-Nishimura Lab at Cornell University, where the ground-breaking data from live mouse brains that may
help discover an Alzheimer’s treatment is being generated, researchers behind Stardust@home from UC Berkley, neuroscience and machine learning experts from Princeton University, and
crowdsourcing experts from the Human Computation Institute. In a trans-disciplinary effort, we adapted the same platform for an entirely different purpose, but a similar task. The virtual
microscope first created to look through layers of aerogel, is now used to look through layers of a live mouse brain, to establish links between reduced blood flow in the brain and Alzheimer’s
Stall Catchers, an online citizen science game, is one of the many crowdsourcing efforts that are changing the way we do research completely [3,4]. Tasks that might be a challenge in the lab
due to time or space constrains are now being crowdsourced to the public improving the speed – and sometimes quality – of that research by orders of magnitude.
In collaboration with:
1 week data collection =
1 year analysis
The manual data analysis is so time-consuming, it takes
at least 6 months in the lab to complete a single
experiment. At this rate, it would take decades to
discover the molecular mechanisms and potential drugs
On the other hand, the same task could be achieved
faster with more trained eyes on the same data.
A positive feedback loop seems to exist between reduced
blood flow (stall) and accumulation of amyloid plaques
Reversing the blood stalls reduces Alzheimer's symptoms,
and could be key in preventing them
Two-photon microscopy has recently allowed imaging of
individual microvessels in live mouse brain
Each vessel segment needs to be analyzed separately, and
identified as "flowing" or "stalled"
1 year = 2 weeks by
Since it was established in 2006, thousands of participants at
Stardust@home volunteer thinking project have identified 7
confirmed interstellar dust particles by searching through
millions of aerogel images.
We have adapted the Virtual Microscope of Stardust@home
a very similar task with an entirely different purpose:
searching the brains of mice for stalled blood vessels on Stall
Our validation study has revealed that Stall Catchers
players exceed the accuracy threshold for
identifying flowing or stalled vessels.
The accuracy of the crowd answer increases with the
number of annotations per movie & reaches optimum at
15-20 annotations. This will be further improved with
dynamic consensus methods in development.
What molecular mechanisms are involved in
reduced blood flow in Alzheimer’s?
Which processes can be targeted to improve blood
Are vessel stalls linked to amyloid accumulation or
other aspects of Alzheimer’s?
Does using a particular drug help reduce stalls in
the brain of mice?
Some of the remaining critical research questions:
 Schaffer, C. B. Funded R01 proposal to NIH (2015).
 Westphal, A. J. et al. Evidence for interstellar origin of seven dust particles
collected by the Stardust spacecraft. Science 345, 786–791 (2014).
 Khatib, F. et al. Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by
protein folding game players. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 18, 1175–1177
 Candido dos Reis, F. J. et al. Crowdsourcing the General Public for Large Scale
Molecular Pathology Studies in Cancer. EBioMedicine 2, 681–689 (2015).
 Westphal, A. J., Stroud, R. M., Bechtel, H. A., Brenker, F. E., Butterworth, A. L.,
Flynn, G. J., ... & Simionovici, A. S. (2014). Evidence for interstellar origin of seven
dust particles collected by the Stardust spacecraft. Science, 345(6198), 786-791.
eyesonalz.com & stallcatchers.com