US Supreme Court rules human genes can’t be patented

In a historic ruling that drastically affects the future of science and medicine, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that human genes cannot be patented, but that synthetically created DNA strands are “patent eligible”.

The ruling is a victory for science researchers who have been restricted from creating tests or treatment options involving human genes that were already patented.  The case revolved around the Utah biotech firm Myriad Genetics, which was facing a lawsuit for placing patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes often appear with mutations in patients that eventually develop breast or ovarian cancer.

Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie last month announced that she had a double mastectomy after taking a test that found a mutation in one of her BRC genes.

As a result of its patents, Myriad has been able to monopolize research and testing for these genes, thereby preventing other doctors and researchers from developing alternate options involving the BRCA1 and BRCA2 strands. Women at risk of ovarian or breast cancer had no other options aside from taking the expensive Myriad test, which is not always covered by insurance.

But in its landmark ruling, the nine Supreme Court justices wrote that “a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.”

Scientists, doctors and researchers are now able to develop new tests for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as all other natural DNA that was previously patented.

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