A new videogame is helping scientists better understand the spread of tuberculosis, which affects more than 11 million worldwide.
Project Sanitarium lets players make strategic choices about allocating resources to treat tuberculosis patients and the main game is supported by smaller classic arcade-style games which explore specific details about how drug treatments work and how to read x-rays, raising awareness about the disease.
The data created by the game also helps test a mathematical model developed by University of St Andrews scientists that predicts how the disease spreads, which could help inform the design of future clinical trials, saving both time and money when developing new drugs to treat patients.
The game was developed by Radication Games, a team of undergraduate students at Abertay University. It has won gold in the Healthcare category at this year’s Serious Play Awards and third place in the Microsoft Azure Cloud Gaming Innovation Challenge.
John Brengman, one of the students behind the game, said: “The scale of the global tuberculosis pandemic is absolutely terrifying, but there’s still very little awareness about this disease.
“You have as much chance of surviving ebola without treatment as you do of surviving tuberculosis with treatment. We want to use games technology to help tackle this massive problem, through raising awareness and helping test the scientists’ mathematical model.”
The free game is powered by Microsoft mobile and cloud technology, so players can receive real-time updates on the virtual patients they are treating. The students behind the project hope to form a company after graduating to develop a larger game that would include an in-game economy based on the financial and time costs of treatments, which could allow for charitable donations by players paying to buy more game currency.
Abertay University was originally approached by Professor Stephen Gillespie and Dr Ruth Bowness from the University of St Andrews to use the mathematical data from their model to develop a game.
Gillespie said: “Tuberculosis is a disease that is still killing more than a million people a year. Part of the problem is that there is stigma associated with the disease and many people do not seek treatment.
“Once diagnosed, a lot of patients feel better long before it is safe for them to stop treatment and so the disease may come back and may become resistant to antibiotics.
“By developing Project Sanitarium into an effective teaching tool for the public and health professionals we can demystify the disease and help more patients to complete their treatment and be cured.”
The game is available as a free download