Supreme Court’s decision regarding natural genes benefits science, will save thousands of lives


Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Biology undergrads at SFU Surrey doing their lab works

An eight-year-old girl’s single mother, Lisbeth Ceriani, was struggling deeply about her future health. She was diagnosed with bilateral stage IIA breast cancer, an early breast cancer stage that could be treated varies from person to person, in May 2008 at age 42. Her genetic counselor firmly advised her to take Myriad’s BRCA genetic test to diagnose whether Ceriani was carrying a mutation in either of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Luckily, Myriad’s BRCA genetic test, BRACAnalysis test, will detect the mutation of those genes, so the patients and counselors can confirm which step they should take. Sadly, due to its expensive cost, many women could not afford to test the mutation of BRCA1 and BRCA2, so they either suffer through the risky ovarian removal surgeries or cancer.

The reason why this diagnostic test cost so much is that Myriad Genetics had patented BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in 1998.

“Because it essentially owns the genes, Myriad is the only company that can conduct the test — so it sets the price,” medical sociologist Gayle Sulik said.

But now, Myriad Genetics can no longer monopolize BRCA1 and BRCA2. The Supreme Court ruled on June 13th that natural genes cannot be patented which brought abundant benefits to public health care, and the medical and biotechnology industries; it’s an advanced step forward to a better, brighter future.

The cost of health care will be reduced because there won’t be any monopolies over natural genes. According to Daniel Burrus, a global futurist, close to 25% of the 22,000 human genes have been patented but now all those patents are invalid; this will quickly increase the competition and innovation in genetic testing and new therapies for more than 4,000 known diseases such as heart arrhythmia and other form of cancers. People can finally enjoy more advanced and affordable health cares.

Lots of people support the Supreme Court’s decision because they know it will benefit the society as a whole. Diane Ursu, a writer of, also said that patents should be for people who create new things and ideas, not people who discover things.

“The difficulty of your work is independent of new thoughts and ideas and is what financial compensation in the form of a salary or wage is for.”

The ruling of Supreme Court ensured people to have the rights to enjoy those natural resources. At the same time, it allow others to access those resources and make better use of them. This act won’t only improve the citizens’ health cares, but also improve biological and medical science in our society which will make the society more advance.

Runi Limary, breast cancer survivor, said to American Civil Liberties Union, “This opens the door for researchers and access to testing which can potentially save lives… Everyone deserves the right to truly know if they have the BRCA mutation. The Supreme Court’s decision today is a giant step in the right direction.”

While some support the Supreme Court’s decision, The Guardian argued that since the US Supreme Court ruled natural gene sequences unpatentable, why do other natural chemical compounds, such as Aspirin and penicillin, still remained patented. It also argued that the decision will make any biotech company unable to claim protection for its initiative to develop new products, and innovative, significant investments put into research activities.

The Supreme Court’s decision is beneficial for the general public in so many ways. It doesn’t only make therapies and genetic testings more affordable for people, it also creates new opportunities for other companies and industries to research more about human genes and demystify the treatments of more cancers and diseases. But at the same time, it also generated another debatable issues and concerns regarding patents.

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