Genes are complex; gene patents might be more so

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Genetic research breakthroughs have come to be expected -- greeted with a sense of inevitability and the quiet assurance that science will ultimately puzzle out, then cure, human disease. But how those breakthroughs actually yield benefits is complicated.

An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times calls attention to an upcoming court battle, one that’s been brewing for a while now, in which the American Civil Liberties Union is squaring off against Myriad Genetics and, oh, yes, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The case could decide whether genes, and tests for them, can be patented.

The editorial summarizes, then states, the topic of contention:

‘It amounts to a judgment call about whether it’s right to give a company control over access to essential pieces of information about the body’s natural programming, and whether it makes sense to trust that company to share the information freely with researchers and license it widely to competitors. On both of those questions, we think the answer is no.’


Read the full editorial here.

Here’s the ACLU’s take, a closer look at Myriad’s tests in particular and a roundup of genetic-testing information from MedlinePlus.

Don’t grow too accustomed to that sense of inevitability or quite assurance. Much remains to be seen.

-- Tami Dennis