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Case Study: Should Genes Be Patentable?

Dr. John Smith, a cancer researcher, holds a patent for a human gene, PROS1, that appears to be a marker for prostate cancer. He obtained the patent so that he can investigate this gene further without worry of other researchers competing with him. This is important to Dr. Smith because it took 10 years to isolate PROS1. Identifying novel genes is an expensive process, and over the 10 years, John spent nearly all of his funding.  He is hoping that having a patent will attract investors to his research so that he will have the financial support he needs to continue. However, a coalition of patients, doctors, and scientists is suing Dr. Smith over the legality of gene patents. The case has made it to the Supreme Court. The attorneys representing Dr. Smith argue that researchers must be able to protect their discoveries. Otherwise there will be no incentive for discovery of new genes and their relationships to human disease. During his research, Dr. Smith used recombinant DNA technology to remove the PROS1 gene from some human cells and put in a different piece of DNA to allow for further investigation. His attorneys contend that removing the PROS1 gene from the genome means that the gene is no longer a “product of nature” and is, therefore, patentable. Attorneys for the other side argue that gene patents stifle research. Anyone wishing to investigate PROS1 must either get permission from Dr. Smith or pay a fee. The attorneys also argue that simply removing a gene from the genome for further study does not alter its sequence or fundamental properties. Therefore, the gene is still a product of nature and should NOT be patentable. If you were on the Supreme Court, which side would you rule in favor of?

 

If you were on the Supreme Court, which side would you rule in favor of?

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