Friday, June 14, 2013

Supreme Court Gives Us Ownership Of Our Genes

By now you have probably heard about yesterday's US Supreme Court decision in the case of AMP v. Myriad Genetics. In that decision a unanimous court ruled that corporations could not patent a naturally occurring human gene even if they discovered its location in the human genome. The ACLU, which had brought the case to the court, used the following image to declare victory.

That was a huge victory for those of us who are optimistic about the promise of personalized genetic medicine in which our own particular genetic make up is used to both diagnose and tailor treatment of our human disorders.

After the decision was announced Myriad made a statement that other patents that it owned would maintain its position. These would include its proprietary database that allows Myriad to interpret the results of its BRCA testing. All of us who have taken genetic genealogy seriously have learned that that DNA results, taken by themselves, have little meaning. It is only when these results can be compared with a large number of other results can meaningful interpretations be made. 

Fortunately Myriad's statement, while perhaps technically correct, is somewhat misleading. Other labs are already stepping forward to offer alternatives to Myriad's monopoly supported pricing. What Myriad was charging about $4,000 for is now available at the drastically reduced price of $995 at a respected and accredited laboratory. Thanks to CeCe Moore, Your Genetic Genealogist for the heads up about the announcement of this breakthrough in affordability. 

In a press release picked up by the Wall Street Journal, the Houston based company Gene by Gene announced the availability of BRCA testing in the US that it had previously only been able to offer abroad. Many of you are already customers of Gene by Gene through its Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) tests for family history information.

The developments of the last two days make BRCA testing much more affordable and probably is only the beginning of what competition in the marketplace will do to make genetic testing a routine part of our medical care.

Thank you to the US Supreme Court for allowing us to own our own genes!

Disclaimer: Although Dr D coordinates two Y-chromosome surname DNA projects based on results from FTDNA, he has no financial interest in the company.

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