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Medicine The Courts Science

Supreme Court Gene Patents Ruling Opens Genetic Test Options 22

vinces99 writes "The Supreme Court's unanimous decision to bar the patenting of naturally occurring genes opens up important clinical testing options for a variety of diseases, which University of Washington medical geneticists and laboratory medicine experts say will benefit patients. Mary-Claire King, a UW geneticist who was instrumental in identifying the breast cancer-causing genes at the heart of the court case, hailed the ruling as 'a victory for patients, their families, their physicians and common sense.' She noted that within 24 hours after the decision was announced on June 13, UW Laboratory Medicine was offering tests for all known breast cancer genes."
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Supreme Court Gene Patents Ruling Opens Genetic Test Options

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  • by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Friday June 21, 2013 @07:52PM (#44075205)

    reverse transcriptase is a naturally occouring enzyme, and viruses make cDNA all the time, and your cells remove introns all the time, so there is absofuckinglutely nothing patentable about cDNA

    But the cDNAs that people would like to patent is not simply endogenously present - it has to be created using an entirely artificial process. And reverse transcriptase isn't a naturally occurring enzyme in humans, or at least not the kind that's used to make cDNA*. And our cells remove introns only to make mRNA, not cDNA. So it's a little deceptive to say that cDNA is a natural product and therefore not patentable. If your rather simplistic argument were valid, a vast number of forms of gene manipulation and genetic engineering would become unpatentable, because organisms undergo gene manipulation all the time. (The most extreme example is probably horizontal gene transfer, but there are plenty of other weird things going on, many involving viruses.)

    Now, my personal preference (as both a scientist and a consumer) is for as few patents as possible on any genetic material, and I was relieved to see Myriad get slapped down by all nine justices. But what I prefer isn't always in line with what current case law decrees is allowable, and I wouldn't call the Supreme Court incompetent just because they didn't reach the conclusion I personally favor.

    (* In fact, the polymerases used in molecular biology labs are often heavily engineered for greater stability and control, and of course they're not endogenously produced but rather purified from a [heavily modified] recombinant organism expressing the protein on a [human-designed] plasmid, so the connection to the naturally occurring proteins is tenuous.)

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