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Owning Genes

November 28, 2012

In an upcoming case, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether diagnostic genes for breast cancer can be patented.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Genetics and the Supreme Court. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Mutations to genes called BRCA1 and 2 put women at a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. The scientists who made that discovery patented the genes and created a diagnostic test that can tell if women could be prone to these cancers. But soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the question of whether diagnostic genes, as products of nature, should be patented at all. Robert Cook-Deegan is a molecular biologist at Duke University.

ROBERT COOK-DEEGAN  (Duke University):

You’re in effect saying, that by discovering this gene first, you get the rights to be the only person that can test for that gene in the United States until your patent expires.

HIRSHON:

Proponents argue that many diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines are inventions derived from nature, and they’ve been patented for decades. But opponents say because the genes were already in humans, they belong to everyone.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Should human genes used in diagnostic testing be patentable? (Jupiter Images)