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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Genome patents limit research, drive up health expenses

    Patents guarantee a person complete rights and access to their product, idea or method, and since 1980, patents have even applied to our genes.

    In Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that “a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter,” which opened the door for biotech companies and other organizations to start patenting genes.

    Genome patenting has been occurring for more than 30 years, and the United States Patent and Trademark Offices have given patents to between 3,000 to 5,000 genes. Universities and companies have patented about 20 percent of the genes in the human genome, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    However, Gene patents are detrimental for researchers and patients because they give companies exclusive rights on testing and research for certain genes, and sometimes even their mutations.

    Reducing the number of researchers who can study genes delays progress and stalls potential discoveries.

    According to a recent study by Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld and Dr. Christopher Mason, they found that 41 percent of genes in the human genome have already been claimed through patents.

    Although biotech companies claim that patents are necessary to aid innovation, awarding sole rights to one company or person creates issues because it blocks other scientists from conducting research. Under current patent laws, only one company or institution can test and research mutations of a patented gene, unless they give another company permission.

    Exclusive testing rights also affect patients. Gene patenting has the potential to prevent patients from being able to get a second opinion on test results if their physician has a patent on those genes.

    This means that if you had a blood test and your physician said your results showed signs of breast cancer, you might not be able to get a second test done because other companies would be limited by the patent.

    This denies patients access to their own medical information. Not only can these patents prevent people from taking tests that could confirm a proper diagnosis, they also increase the cost of gene testing, according to Lori B. Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law.

    This controversy has led to current Supreme Court case Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, which comes up for review by the justices on Monday.

    Myriad Genetics is the only company in the U.S. permitted to conduct blood tests that can detect mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the genes used to test for breast and ovarian cancer. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the patents that Myriad has owned since 1990 give it the exclusive right to test on the genes.

    As the ACLU has stated, the patents create a type of monopoly that eliminates the freedom and choice patients need to maintain their own health.

    Not to mention, human errors can occur in the lab, and no process is 100 percent foolproof. By not allowing other companies to participate in research or testing to validate findings, patents can harm the health of patients.

    Biotech companies shouldn’t be able to own genes. It limits the scientific process and hurts patients. At some point, biotech companies are going to have to put human lives ahead of making money.

    —Razanne Chatila is a journalism sophomore. She can be reached at or on Twitter via @Razanne92.

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