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News / Insight
So, who do you think owns your genes?
The U.S. Supreme Court is pondering the question: is it legal to patent our genes? It may have a ripple effect in Canada.
Text size: Increase Decrease ResetShare via Email Print Report an Error Save to Mystar By: Leslie Scrivener Feature writer, Published on Sun May 19 2013Explore This Story
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Angelina Jolie’s revelation that she recently had a preventive double mastectomy highlighted a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Through genetic testing, the actor found she inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation that leads to a much higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
A Utah-based company, Myriad Genetics, Inc., owns the patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
But the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the legality of patenting genes, saying it prevents scientists from using those genes in their research and limits access for diagnostic testing. It notes 20 per cent of genes are patented.
But the case also raised the question: who owns our genes? Myriad Genetics claims its monopoly, arguing that once genes are isolated from cells they become an invention and are therefore patentable. Also, its research cost more than $500 million and took 17 years to break even.
Richard Gold is a law professor at McGill University and an associate member of the human genetics department in the faculty of medicine. He published a 2011 case study on Myriad and patenting genes in the journal Genetics in Medicine.
Q: Myriad not only holds the patent on the genetic test, but on the gene itself. How can a company patent something that is part of our bodies, something found in nature