Gene Patenting: Invention, or a Hindrance to Research | Teen Ink

Gene Patenting: Invention, or a Hindrance to Research

December 8, 2014
By JupiterTheJedi SILVER, Wasilla, Alaska
JupiterTheJedi SILVER, Wasilla, Alaska
6 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Practice is not trying until you have it. It's from "I have it" to "I can't mess up."

~Lucy Shaw, a violin teacher I had the honor of working with.

Is the discovery of a gene merit enough to patent it as an invention? What affect will gene patenting have on clinical research? These are the main questions involving gene patenting, which, according to the reputable, allows for a certain gene to be owned by an individual or corporation. The biggest issues for scientists is the restriction patents place on research. If one company, Montalbano Genetics owns the rights to BRAC1 and BRAC2, other companies can’t work with the genes, and other researchers miss out on important work with the genes.

Another important con that researchers, particularly government-employed workers, envision is a “gene grab”, where companies work in a frenzy to patent genes without taking the time to slow down and find out what the genes actually do. This is what was happening during the Human Genome Project when Craig Venter was working at NIH and discovering genes at a lightning pace; the NIH planned to patent the genes (around 2000 of them) without even knowing their functions. This is what made other scientists practically throw up in their mouths. In addition, a company with a patent owns the gene, and can charge a fee for other people to work on the gene. These fees can be exorbitant, and sometimes access isn’t even granted. This also raises health care costs for patients that need treatments based on the gene!

Other than the practical aspects of gene patenting, the human factor is necessarily involved in our decision making process. Any time somebody mentions owning a piece of the human body, the common man in all of us is disgusted. We all believe the human genome is different than other intellectual property, precisely because of the adjective of being human. This raises the question of human dignity, and what being human means. Once you’ve isolated a gene and inserted it into a plasmid or a bacterium, is it truly human? These are some sidebar questions that are raised through the technology involved in gene patenting.

There’s a flip side to these cons, however. For one, gene patenting lets researchers protect their research with some financial stability and security. Once a researcher has worked hard to isolate a gene, he doesn’t want another man to come up alongside and say, “Oh, hey! I beat you to the market with a similar therapy!” In addition, investors can provide a researcher with some money. Lastly, the kind of security provided by gene patents lets a researcher gain some solid, reputable results without being rushed to the finish line.

Gene patents also provide some incentive for researchers to discover genes in the first place. Genetics is demanding work, and what’s the use when there is no reward for working? For many people this argument may seem invalid and selfish. There will be a benefit to mankind if they keep working, and this appeals to many people’s selfless nature. Gene patents also make a competitive market for the medical field, leading to faster discoveries and perhaps some help to human lives.

What’s the right answer here? This depends on what side of the gene debate you’re on. Are you a private sector laboratory researcher? Are you a biotechnology stockholder? If so, you’re probably going to be in favor of gene patents. If you’re a regular person, maybe this disgusts you. Take some time to digest with the gene Slc26a9, recently discovered, that controls secretion of acid in the stomach - which could be up for patent, like up to one fifth of the human genome.

The author's comments:

School assignment. I want to be a geneticist, so I'd like to know my side before I get thrown into college.

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