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DNA Helix

The issue of gene patents [update]

Hospitals in Australia are stuck in a bad position when it comes to genetic testing. The Sidney Morning Herald has a piece discussing the patented gene SCN1A, which is used to diagnose a particular type of epilepsy in infants. The company that has the test patented, Genetic Technologies, won’t let hospitals do in house testing. Instead, they must resort to sending samples to Scotland to be tested…a process that takes a lot of time and costs much more than necessary. This results in worse care for the infants.

Babies with a severe form of epilepsy risk having their diagnosis delayed and their treatment compromised because of a company’s patent on a key gene.

It is the first evidence that private intellectual property rights over human DNA are adversely affecting medical care.

This is only the beginning of genetic testing. What role are patents going to play in this, especially considering that they seem to do more harm than good from the patent’s perspective. I wonder if there is some legal loophole that hospitals can use to get around this, at least in the United States. Perhaps it may work if the hospital conducted the test for internal research purposes only and then used the results after it had them, though I don’t know if this argument would hold up in court.

What do Think Gene readers think about this? Let’s hear your thoughts!

1 Comment

  1. CJ Canna said,
    September 30, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    Thousands of genes have been added to the databanks as a result of the decision to allow patenting. Patents were reduced from seventeen years to fifteen, and the last of patents granted on genes we knew nothing about will run out soon placing all of that information in the public domain so that even more research can be done. It was a win-win for the public. For more see: “Genascent: The Human Genome Project in Plain Words.”