Can human genes be patented? That's the question before the U.S Supreme Court which hears oral arguments Monday in a case involving some Texas women.
Their case involves both breast and ovarian cancer genes which the women wanted a second opinion on. But those are patented, creating what the ACLU's Sandra Park calls a monopoly.
“They're able to stop any other lab from doing testing on these genes, even when those labs are using different testing methods,” Park tells KTRH News.
“The future of medicine is personalizing medicine to our genetic susceptibilities and responses, but allowing patents on individual genes stands in the way of that,” she says.
South Texas College of Law's Ted Field says this is a practice that has been upheld in lower courts dating back three decades. The high court in 1980 ruled genetically modified organisms can be patented.
“Having a gene as a separate chemical so-to-speak, outside of its normal, natural environment where its part of a chromosome and its in a cell, that's enough to patent it according to the court of appeals and patent office,” says Field.
The high court's decision could have a lasting impact.
“It could bear on the extent to which a doctor can look at that stuff, use that stuff, whether pharmaceutical companies could create new drugs and other kinds of medical remedies,” he says.