Category: Gene Therapy

Supreme Court: You Can’t Patent Human Genes

Sky spectral karyotype Supreme Court:  You Cant  Patent Human GenesIn a unanimous decision, The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (June 14, 2013) against the right to patent human genes.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, the ruling is truly significant.  Roughly 20 percent of the human genome is currently under patent protection. Read Michael Crichton’s “Next” if you want to understand how disturbing this issue has been.

The court case was around a legal battle against Utah-based Myriad Genetics, a company that identified two genes that, when they mutate, are high risk indicators for breast and ovarian cancer.(named BRCA 1 and BRCA 2).  Myriad patented the genes. In the court’s ruling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas writes, “The location and order of the nucleotides existed in nature before Myriad found them. Nor did Myriad create or alter the genetic structure of DNA.”

NIH Director Francis Collins commented today, “I am very pleased with today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court … that genes isolated from the human body are not patentable. The decision represents a victory for all those eagerly awaiting more individualized, gene-based approaches to medical care.”

It should be noted that the court did open the way for companies to patent synthetic versions of the gene material, but, as of this ruling, you can no longer patent human genes.

Gene Therapy has Helped Three Legally Blind Patients

The NIH National Eye Institute (NEI) at the National Institutes of Health has conducted clinical trials by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and the University of Florida, Gainesville. After a year, three patients, ages 22 to 25, who recieved the gene therapy have continued to show gains and visual improvements. 

The  gene therapy is used for a form of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), which has been an untreatable hereditary condition that causes severe vision loss and blindness in infants and children.   LCA causes mutations in the RPE65 gene. A protein made by this gene is a crucial component needed for eyes to function.

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