On June 13, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided that companies cannot patent naturally occurring human genes. This is an interesting distinction as it breaks away from other cases regarding DNA patenting and collecting within the US. Earlier this month, SCOTUS ruled that police agencies could collect and indefinitely store human DNA, even if charges are dropped. This ruling identifies DNA similar to fingerprints in the eyes of the law in forensics information gathering. Also, previously to this ruling, SCOTUS has ruled that companies can patent synthesized genes.
This case has garnered national attention due to some interesting events in popular media. In May actress Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy. According to the news , after learning that she was extremely likely to develop breast cancer because she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene. The case before SCOTUS was directly tied into this very BRCA1 gene. Myriad Genetics of Utah, was the only company that had developed a test to identify this gene and had patented the gene to maintain a monopoly over the testing. With this ruling other companies will now be able to develop testing, which should bring down the price of the test and make it available to more people. In time it is speculated that the BRCA1 test will become commonplace and lives will be saved as a direct result of this ruling.
DNA Services of America is pleased with this ruling. While we currently do not offer BRCA1 testing, we know that with this gene now open to further research more and more testing opportunities will become available.
DNA testing and analysis for medical diagnostic and disease predisposition is still a very young field. This ruling by SCOTUS will encourage growth within the field. By safeguarding against patenting naturally occurring genes, companies will be able to develop new studies and tests to identify other diseases and cancers. Hopefully, through this ruling and others like it, medical professionals will be able to provide better care for their patients by having better information with which to make important medical decisions.
If you believe that you are a potential carrier of the BRCA1 gene, or have a family history of breast cancer, we encourage you to contact you family physician and discuss you situation and options.