Public Domain

Project of the Week #6: EyesOnALZ

Are you going to the British Science Festival in Brighton this September? If so, look out for this week’s Project of the Week: EyesOnALZ.

What does this project do?
It finds out more about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain, especially the blood flow, with the hopes of eventually finding a cure. There are currently a vast number of images taken at Cornell University that computers are not yet very good at processing, so the Human Computation Institute are asking humans to look through them.

What do I have to do?
Play a game called Stall Catchers. You will be presented with a movie, whose speed you control with a slider (you can keep it still and move it back and forth). It will show black and white blood vessels in mouse brains, imaged with a technique called two-photon excitation microscopy. As the microscope looks deeper into the brain, you’ll see the blood moving – or not! If there are dark spots which stay still, that means there is a “stall” and something has blocked the blood flow, a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll be asked to flag this, and you can click where you see the dark spot. There are written and videoed tutorials on the website.

Where can I find out more?
Their web page, which links at the top to several news articles
Their Facebook page
Their Twitter
The Human Computation Institute
Their discussion forum

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is a regular Monday feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, the loss of memory in elderly people which affects nearly 50 million worldwide. It has a physical cause: the build-up of proteins in the brain which affects nerve connections and blood flow, all of which is damaging. One of its well-known sufferers was the Discworld writer Sir Terry Pratchett.

Researchers at Cornell University’s Schaffer Nishimura Lab have found that one of the culprits causing the blockages or “stalls” are white blood cells – the large cells in our blood that fight pathogens. But investigating all this means looking through thousands of images from inside brains. The data that takes an hour to collect then takes a week to process! That is why many volunteers are needed.

There is a fascinating history behind the creation of EyesOnALZ: like Galaxy Zoo, it was inspired by Stardust@Home, whose creator Andrew Westphal was invaluable in helping create the interface and the scoring system for classifiers. Sadly, Westphal’s father Jim Westphal also died of Alzheimer’s in 2004. He had been a citizen scientist with Operation Moonwatch, and his love of building scientific instruments got him a job at Caltech, where one of the instruments he designed was the Hubble Space Telescope’s wide-angle camera.

EyesOnALZ undertakes a great many community events and competitions, including in retirement homes and other places where Alzheimer’s disease is well known. Their next excursion is to the British Science Festival, which this year takes place in Brighton. They (including DITOs’s Alice, who writes Project of the Week!) will have a booth on Brighton Pier on Friday 8th September from 5-10pm. There will be a series of short competitions and opportunities to chat; you can bring your own device or use one of theirs. So while they’d be delighted if you log on, you’ll have even more fun coming and meeting us and seeing if you can win an EyesOnALZ mug in between the many other scientific events on Friday next week!

No booking necessary, but if you want to find out more, please check out these events on Facebook:
Stall Catchers on Brighton Pier
The British Science Festival's Brighton Pier Takeover