Solutions with Lasting Impact

Last May Forbes magazine posed the question: “could the crowd possibly provide the cure to cancer?” in an article that covered a number of cure-sourcing projects including Pink Army and Cancer Commons. And that was before GE’s most recent healthymagination challenge which is investing more than $100 million in rewards for crowdsourced innovations in the field of breast cancer research and treatment. The challenges cover a range of issues and patient needs – from early detection to survival empowerment. The ideas are already starting to come in. It’s one of the most significant investments in health and medicincal crowdsourced research that I’ve seen and I’m excited to hear more about how the contest progresses.

Of course, crowdsourcing and the field of medicine have been coming together quite a lot this year. One of the most notable and successful projects that has engaged the crowd is the FoldIt program that has gamified the study of protein folding – creating a community of amino-folding fans. It turns out that humans are actually better at this work than computers are and that breakthroughs as a result of this research could lead to progress in understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis (as well as cancer and HIV).  More than 57,000 people signed up to play and numerous articles have been written about the success of the project. However, what scientific breakthroughs the massive amount of research that has now been compiled will yield is still to be seen.

I doubt that crowdsourcing alone will ever replace lab-based research (since much of crowdsourced innovation still begins with individuals experimenting in the lab), but I like that our sources for solutions to serious health issues are no longer limited to the discussions of specialists. I would like to think that each of us can be empowered to become a part of the solution.

What other ways can crowdsourcing serve the world of medicine? What other diseases have been impacted by crowdsourced knowledge?

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