Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Open Source Cancer Research

  1. Mar 5, 2014 #1
    I have looked around for a group of people who perform cancer research as a kind of open /crowd sourced project. Not paid researchers, but a group of people passionate about science and finding a cure. I have found some resources for this kind of research through organizations like COSMIC but no one really devoting a group to researching and contributing openly and freely to this field. That said, do you think a group of "biohackers" per se would stand any chance of making real progress toward finding a cure?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2014 #2
    Are you knowledgeable enough about the area to even be able to express what it is you can offer? The first step of research of any kind is knowing the system well enough to compose a question. Once you have composed a question, you try to figure out how to answer it. There is a the reason PhD's spend ~10 years in school and "start at the bottom," after graduating. I doubt you'd find a group who would just hand you a project off the street with little background in the area. May be possible but I really doubt it.

    Have you tried reading some literature with computations in it? I'd start emailing authors directly if I were so intent on helping. They may even give you suggestions of where you can try next etc.
  4. Mar 6, 2014 #3
    Perhaps this sounds very idealogical, but many of the greatest innovations and ideas in the world today were proposed by people with less education than many of their peers. I guess I'm just thinking that the worst that can happen is we gain some knowledge on the way. Why not perform research as a hobbyist group? Many of the hobbies we have don't contribute to the betterment of humanity in any way; this would.
  5. Mar 6, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Sorry but this is patently untrue. The vast majority of scientific and technological development is achieved by people who have spent years studying in the field. Even examples to the contrary are more often than not myths, Einstein is a popular one but in reality he had a good education in maths and physics. Yanick is entirely correct that to make a contribution to a field you have to know the field well enough to decide where to start, what question to ask and how to go about answering it.

    I'm skeptical but appreciative of biohack groups. They at least demonstrate a keen interest in learning about biology and working on ways to conduct experiments on a limited budget. But I'll be surprised if any major breakthroughs come from them, and if they do to what extent they benefited from professional groups. All the biohack stuff I've ever come across is more akin to tinkering than anything else.

    Regarding cancer in particular consider that billions of dollars are spent worldwide on cancer research at thousands of top labs and institutions. Given that what chance does a hobbyist have? Especially as cancer is not a condition where you're ever going to find one drug that cures it totally with no side effects (unlike antibiotics). Cancer is a highly complicated group of diseases that we don't even fully understand.

    Having said all that it is admirable that you want to learn more about biology and give it a go. My advice if you are interested is not to get into it thinking you're going to be the one to cure cancer in your garage. That attitude is just going to leave you disillusioned and poorly equipped to deal with the reality of the situation. I'd say just start reading, find online biology courses and books, get in contact with a biohack group and see how they recommend getting started and take it from there.
  6. Mar 6, 2014 #5
    What biological system are you going to use to model your ideas? Cells? Sorry, you can't just do cell culture work in your basement. How are you going to be able to afford anything like confocal or super high resolution microscopes, flow cytometers, or just a simple incubator that costs $30 gs?

    Skipping cells and trying it on animals? I'm sure that'll be feasible. Animal work has 100x more read tape and absolutely no one will take seriously any animal work done without properly controlled environments and approved institutional protocols.

    The best I could see 'hack' groups contributing is if an author puts out work for help with computational modeling needs, but that's about it.
  7. Mar 6, 2014 #6
    I'm sure I could never cure cancer in my garage, or at all for that matter. I have no education in the field other than personal research and reading. I guess my thought was that if a group of great minds in the field could come together and explore creative and innovatiive methods of research - computational methods using math to quantify character traits of cancer cells and analyze them algorithmically, genomic analysis to look at abnormalities in the nucleotides of cancer cells, etc. Just taking maybe a new apporach that hasn't been explored.

    When I refer to innovations I think of great technological breakthroughs acheived through cutting edge organizations like Google. Their GoogleX lab has made some very significant contributions to our everyday lives. Peter Zatko (aka Mudge) was just an everyday hacker who has made big breakthroughs in computer science and security. He now works for Google but was prior working for DARPA. Steve Jobs transformed the world starting in his garage. Bill Gates, Michael Dell - both college dropouts. Do you see where I am coming from?
  8. Mar 6, 2014 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    There is the open source medical devices initiative:
    http://discovery.wisc.edu/osmd [Broken]

    Unfortunately it doesn't look like much has happened with it recently.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Mar 6, 2014 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    No. Medical research isn't like programming - you can't just learn some on your own and be off and running. It takes a decade of formal study to become knowledgeable enough about the subject matter to have any real chance of making a contribution.
    None of those examples have anything to do with scientific discovery.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2014
  10. Mar 6, 2014 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    None of those three has contributed anything much to science (though Bill Gates has turned philanthropic in his old age). I admit they have done some useful engineering.

    And to be fair, Bill Gates did publish one paper in a peer-reviewed journal. It was a mathematical analysis of flipping pancakes. I rest my case....
  11. Mar 6, 2014 #10
    I just want to express that although there is a low chance of success at a direct contribution to "cancer research," you deserve to be commended for your intentions. There is still hope. Perhaps you can try developing a robust open source and user friendly kinetics simulator, for instance. I have been doing a lot of that lately, mostly from home (so zero budget) and the options are fairly limited. Maybe you won't figure out the cure, but some piece of code of software you write may help a programming ignorant scientist work out the nitty gritty of whatever detail they are figuring out.
  12. Mar 7, 2014 #11
    Thanks for the encouragement Yanick. I think every small contribution helps, and perhaps the attitude toward the disease is hindering making progress toward a cure. I have began experimenting with some software such as FoldIt, unipro UGENE, and PerlPrimer. I remember when people used to laugh about curing AIDS, but that has become MUCH more treatable over the past 2 decades.

    Anyway, it was just a thought.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook