News / Health

Supreme Court Gene Ruling Benefits Biotech, Breast Cancer Research

FILE - A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics, May 31, 2002.
FILE - A technician loads patient samples into a machine for testing at Myriad Genetics, May 31, 2002.
Megan McGrath
Everyone has BRCA genes in their cells. If you are a woman and one of your BRCA gene copies has a mutation, your risk of developing breast cancer is very high - up to 87 percent in some cases.

A biotechnology company called Myriad Genetics Inc. was the first to discover the healthy, normal code of BRCA. Because a mutation is an error in that code, the normal sequence can be used to test for the breast cancer-causing BRCA mutation. Myriad developed the test, and won patent protection for it and the original BRCA gene.

Thursday, in a case against Myriad by the ACLU, the Supreme Court decreed that genes can no longer be patented, invalidating Myriad’s intellectual claim to the BRCA code. Yet both sides came away claiming victory.

So what happened, and what does this decision mean for cancer patients, medical researchers and biotechnology?

A patent is issued to give an inventor or developer intellectual and property rights to whatever has been made. The patent on the BRCA gene initially was granted for isolated DNA: the gene removed from the human body so that it may be worked with in the lab.

But the federal Patent Act states that an inventor may not claim intellectual property rights for “laws of nature” or “natural phenomena.”

The question was whether the isolated BRCA gene constituted a new invention, having been removed from the body. The Supreme Court unanimously decided that isolated DNA, though isolated, is still natural, and not a human invention.

According to Dr. Marisa Weiss, founder and president of Breastcancer.org, this could mean new research, cures and testing for women with BRCA mutations, and for cancer patients. Until now, researchers have had to pay for the isolated BRCA genetic code, which they need to have to understand how BRCA functions both on its own and in concert with other genes.

BRCA repairs errors in the DNA of breast tissue cells, and prevents unrestrained growth. So, if BRCA is damaged, breast tissue growth can go haywire, leading to cancer.

Five to 10 percent of all breast cancers are caused by BRCA mutation, and it also leads to a greatly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Freeing the isolated BRCA gene from its patent could allow researchers to develop more, cheaper tests for BRCA mutation, which could give more women at increased risk of developing cancer a chance to know their status earlier.

Women with BRCA mutations are advised to monitor their health with frequent breast MRIs, according to Dr. Weiss. They also may choose to undergo preventive mastectomies and removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes to avoid cancer.

With the early awareness provided by BRCA mutation testing, women may even choose to have children earlier to prepare for these surgeries.

American actress Angelina Jolie's recent decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy was a result of having discovered a mutation in one of her BRCA genes.

Myriad Genetics Inc. is not deprived by this decision, however, said Jennifer L. Swize, a lawyer who represented the biotech company. In fact, she said, “to Myriad, this decision is a win.” While the court overturned patents on isolated DNA, it made a point to uphold patents on cDNA (complementary DNA), or synthetic copies of the genetic sequence with useless “junk” segments removed.

CDNA is what Myriad uses in most of its BRCA research anyway, not unmodified isolated DNA. Patents on research and designs like the BRCA mutation test also were upheld. Myriad’s stock rose following the decision.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid