Stall Catchers is one of the two EyesOnALZ citizen science games, designed to help researchers at Cornell University to search the brain for stalled blood vessels that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. This is a first ever application of citizen science to speeding up Alzheimer’s research!

The game was built on one of the oldest volunteer thinking projects: stardust@home, and is using the Virtual Microscope developed by their team. Who knew stardust and blood vessels could be so similar?

What are we looking for?

It has long been known that reduced blood flow in the brain is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but until recently no one knew why.

New imaging techniques have enabled our collaborators at Schaffer – Nishimura Lab to study the possible mechanisms that underlie this reduced blood flow in mice that have Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood vessels appear to be clogging mostly by white blood cells that stick to the walls of the tiniest vessels – capillaries – effectively blocking blood flow and causing a stall. Stalls are what we need to “catch” in this game!

Why are we looking for stalls?

Obviously, stalls have reduced blood flow and, what is even worse, can obstruct blood flow to many downstream vessels. So if ~2% of capillaries get blocked in Alzheimer’s, it can add up to ~30% reduced blood flow in total – about the equivalent of the oxygen “debt” you experience when you stand up too quickly. Just imagine walking around lightheaded like that all day every day to compare!

Needless to say, reduction in blood flow, and with that, lack of oxygen, nutrients, regulatory molecules – all the things that make the brain “tick”, could be related to cognitive deficits and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Read more about the science behind here.

If we figure out what stalls are, though, we could find a way to reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms or prevent the disease altogether. But to get to the bottom of this problem we need to look through whole lots of data. Unfortunately, manual data curation as it works now is too slow.

Each experiment at Schaffer – Nishimura lab requires imaging of multiple animals, up to a thousand vessels each, and each tiniest vessel needs to be looked at and scored as “flowing” or “stalled” by a trained scientist. At this rate, it would easily take decades to get the answers we need to get. We just can’t wait that long. But this is where YOU come in!

How is this going to work?

While playing the game, you’ll be looking at real movies of live mouse brain. You will be given one vessel to annotate per movie, and will do so by searching for signs of blood flow or stalls.

Don’t worry – it is easy to learn! And even if you get a couple of questions wrong – each movie will be seen by many citizen scientists like you, so we can figure out the right answers together!
More about EyesOnALZ project – eyesonalz.com