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Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Whether or Not Your Genes Can Be Patented

Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Upcoming Cases of Interest - 1 Comment

James Watson (left) and Francis Crick (right) won the Noble Prize in 1962 for their work in discovering the double helix structure of DNA. The Supreme Court will soon decide if companies can patent parts of human DNA.

In July, TeenJury last reported on Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics.  This summer, a U.S Court of Appeals upheld Myriad’s right to patent two human genes that are linked to breast and ovarian cancer.  The two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, can be used to detect if women are at increased risk, and they can also help determine which treatment options are likely to be most successful.  Many doctors and medical associations feel that Myriad restricts access to needed medical care and that they should not be able to patent normal parts of nature.  Josephine Johnston, at the Hastings Center, an independent research institute, said, “one could argue that genes are owned by everybody.”  It is estimated that about 4,000 of the 22,000 human genes have been patented.  Peter Meldrum, Myriad’s CEO, commented that the innovations that they have discovered have taken significant resources and money, and without the ability to patent their work, future research may be hampered.  Perhaps the most remarkable brief in this case comes Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Watson, who, in 1953, along with Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA.  He argues against Myriad by stating that, “Life’s instructions ought not be controlled by legal monopolies created at the whim of Congress or the courts.”  The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June.

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