U.S. Supreme Court
Justices assess legality of human-gene patents
By Sharon Begley REUTERS
NEW YORK — Soon after learning that his son had autism, Hollywood producer Jon Shestack tried to get researchers investigating the genetic causes of the disorder to pool their DNA samples, the better to identify genes most likely to cause that disorder. But his approach to scientists at universities across the country in the late 1990s hit a brick wall: They refused to join forces, much less share the DNA.
“Each thought they needed to hold on to it to publish and patent,” Shestack said. “This seemed criminal to us.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents on at least 4,000 human genes to companies, universities and others that have discovered and decoded them. Patents now cover about 40 percent of the human genome, according to a scientific study led by Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College. But if foes of gene patents have their way, that percentage could be rolled back to zero.
Today, (4-15-13) the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that calls into question whether human DNA can be claimed as intellectual property and remain off limits to everyone without the permission of the patent holder.
The lawsuit, filed in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, challenges seven patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc. on two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision.
The legal issues center on whether the genes that Myriad patented, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, are natural phenomena. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for most inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They can be used to detect risk and aid in treatment options.
- The ACLU says human DNA is a product of nature and as such not patentable under the Patent Act. Myriad argues that its patents are for genes that have been “isolated,” which makes them products of human ingenuity and, therefore, patentable. (Bull, like a rose is still same under any name. . . Jan)
- Amid the legal questions, two parallel issues have emerged: whether patenting genes thwarts scientific research, and whether it harms patients.
- Gene-patent opponents say studies and surveys show that such patents tie the hands of scientists and thwart research.
- A 2010 investigation by an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that patent holders had barred physicians and laboratories from offering genetic testing for hearing loss, leukemia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, a heart condition called Long QT syndrome and other disorders affected by patented genes.
“The overabundance of gene patents is a large and looming threat to personalized medicine,” Cornell’s Mason said. “How is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement? Individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys.”
Mark Capone, president of Myriad’s laboratory division, counters that gene patents, by rewarding research, help patients. He said the biotechnology company’s patents have not hindered scientific research, citing 18,000 scientists who have published 10,000 papers on BRCA. “These are among the most-studied genes in the world,” Capone said.
I had no idea that I was in such good company in being really opposed to the potential harm of the end result of so much of this particular thrust of science. Knowledge is a good thing. Period. But when it is used and abused for private profit read that – corporate gain, it is no longer “good” but corrupted by greed.
Science must never be controlled by corporate dictates – – how many MONSANTO-like giants can one world use? Please look where this has gotten us; weaker, sicker, debilitated humans; depleted, corrupted, sterilized soil in which we are supposed to be growing our food supply which is meant to nourish us – – but can’t because it was never in any way wholesome food to begin with. One can’t sterilize soil and then try to repopulate it with lab chemicals and expect to generate anything close to whole food – – the way NATURE DESIGNED IT, in it’s infinite wisdom. It can’t happen.
Unless we can also develop a “TIME MACHINE” in order to go back in time to when food was nutritious, having been grown in fertile fields where natural fertilizers were used; the crops rotated AND allowed to lie fallow occasionally, – yes that kind of food, that we now must call ORGANIC . . . (because it costs more to do and is more labor intensive), it is almost useless to research on present day man who has been subjected not only to inadequately grown food-crops, but also to the “Standard American Diet” which everybody knows predisposes all to the common diseases so prevalent everywhere. Yes, it is ” SAD” which leads to coronary disease, circulatory and pulmonary and digestive system diseases. This of course, is why we have so much obesity, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes – – from inadequate foods. But replacing all with synthetic chemicals the body is unable to recognize as food-stuff, our toxic load is great. And these toxins reflect in the manifestation of increasing dementia, brittle bones, lowered IQ’s and increasing Autism.
All these disease we are so afflicted with are the visible, measurable elements of this puzzle. Each disease is a group of symptoms that deplete or destroy our lives. Seeing a doctor, we are given some med to try to manage the symptoms, but this becomes an endless, unproductive story. What we need is a Cause and to correct that. The cause is simple. You are what you eat. ITS THE FOOD! By the time all these diseases show up with their symphony of symptoms – – it would be really helpful to understand that all the internal organs (not so easily SEEN), have been under attack for probably a long time. Not only the organs, but every cell in our bodies, including – – OUR GENES.
So here we are, measuring our genes and trying to discover what is wrong with them. Something has to be blamed! What gene has fallen down on the job? Perhaps we are evolving and now have new genes – mal-formed or miss-aligned. Something has to be wrong.
Some of the results of the adventure into the human genome has been to set up this enormous new boogie-man. It is a great “New” area to worry about. And worry we do. It is triggering FEAR and “angst.” The results have wrought some ladies into double mastectomy even tho no cancer has threatened them (YET). This is an extreme of course, but it’s happening. Others will test before allowing a pregnancy to go forward and on it goes.
Yep, a whole, exciting new industry. But it is based on fear and worry. One can call it good sense and using your noggin for something useful. But I’m seeing it as a natural result of a frustrated people who have been let down not only by the medical community, but by our government and the governing agencies set up to protect and serve the needs of our people. And it is not happening. In each and every case political corruption and corporate greed is where the action is. Maybe its just one’s point of view. I’m saying its the FOOD. But in Washington, its the MONEY and everybody knows it.
Notice what happened yesterday? The Gun law changes are dead. Yet, 95% of Americans say, enough already, we need to DO SOMETHING to curb the violence. Jan)