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Supreme Court rules that human genes cannot be patented (+video)

A medical breakthrough that isolates a genetic mutation does not amount to an invention meriting a patent, the US Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The decision makes it easier for researchers to engage in genetic research.

Supreme Court decision on gene patents
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The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that human genes and the information they contain cannot be patented by medical researchers, a holding that is expected to make it easier to engage in genetic research and cheaper for medical patients to obtain genetic testing.

The unanimous decision came in a case involving patents protecting genes with certain genetic mutations that scientists say can signal a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women.

The genetic testing issue has been in the news recently with the disclosure that actress Angelina Jolie consented to a double mastectomy after undergoing a genetic test from the same company involved in the Supreme Court case that showed she had a high risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

In invalidating patents held by the genetic testing and research firm, Myriad Genetics, the high court said that while the company’s discovery concerning the genetic mutations was an important breakthrough, it did not amount to a patentable invention.

The decision raises doubts about the validity of some 4,000 other patents currently held on human genes. But the high court noted that synthetically created complimentary DNA, also called cDNA, which is used widely in research, remains eligible for a patent because it is not naturally occurring. This was seen by analysts as tempering the potential impact of the high court’s decision. 

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