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End of © Genes

End of © Genes

In a continuation of last week’s BRCA1 discussion, can other people own your genes? Up until last week, you only owned 80% of your own genes.

Last week, we discussed mutated genes that cause cancer, highlighting the recent phenomenon surrounding the BRCA1 gene. To quickly recap, all genes are located in the naturally inherited DNA sequences that make up every bit of you. These genes remain yours for the entirety of your lifespan. Yet, the issue of who owns your genes has been an ongoing controversy since the 1990s, when Myriad Genetics & Laboratories obtained patents for their discoveries of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

A patent is government accreditation dictating the exclusive rights to an invention for an average of seventeen to twenty years, indicating an original creation as intellectual property. The original patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to Myriad Genetics authorized the exclusive rights of the BRCA genes and DNA genetic testing to the company – meaning that all BRCA related testing could only be processed in Myriad’s Salt Lake City lab, charging $3,340 for a BRCA diagnostic test. With the recent increase in knowledge and demand of BRCA genetic testing, (as noted last week), scientists, researchers, and patients are arguing that Myriad’s patents are limiting the availability and accessibility of genetic testing – fundamentally interrupting further research and advancements.

The scientific community is shocked at the fact that the USPTO has been getting away with giving out gene patents for so long, which has ultimately resulted in allowing companies the right to 20% of your genes! As a result, the Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) has taken the responsibility of expressing the scientific community’s outrage through the Supreme Court: Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics. After many months of debate, Justice Clarence Thompson announced the case’s verdict last Thursday: natural genes cannot be patented. Justice Thompson explained the verdict by stating, “[Myriad] found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.” Seeing as patents can only protect the rights to an invention, the Supreme Court agreed to uphold patenting synthetic genes, known as complementary DNA (cDNA). This means biotech companies, working specifically in genetic engineering, will still be able to obtain patents for their products.

The rulings of this case are expanding the scientific community’s, and its patients’, options, advancements, and discoveries when it comes to genetic testing. There are many advantages that will follow the Supreme Court’s verdict, the biggest being the fact that it will reduce the cost of genetic testing – consequently broadening its availability while simultaneously reaching a wider demographic. Additionally, the ban on genetic patents will allow scientists and researchers to freely investigate genes and their hereditary consequences in a communal effort to further the developments of personalized medicine. And, well, you can sleep easy tonight, knowing that you own 100% of your genes again.

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