U-Michigan experts available to discuss Supreme Court ruling on human gene patents

June 13, 2013

ANN ARBOR— The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that human genes may not be patented. The University of Michigan has several experts available to comment on the implications of the ruling.

Shobita Parthasarathy is an associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy who wrote an expert declaration on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case. She said the U.S. Supreme Court decision was narrow, as expected. “While it prohibited patents on genes simply isolated from the body, it permitted patents on cDNA (DNA with the non-coding sequence extracted). Scientists will, therefore, still have to contend with gene patents. This will likely continue to have a deleterious effect on genetics research and access to health care in the United States.” Parthasarathy can be reached at (734) 764-8075, (773) 882-3897 or at shobita@umich.edu. Link to a video of Parthasarathy discussing the issues in the case: http://fordschool.umich.edu/policypoints/2264027569001/

Dr. Sofia Merajver is director of the Breast and Ovarian Risk Evaluation Program at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Merajver works with patients at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer who choose to consider genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. She has been involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer research since 1993. “The natural expectation from this ruling would be that the cost of genetic testing would go down, which means increased opportunities for more eligible patients to be tested. I’m hopeful industry, laboratories, and universities will begin to develop genetic tests that can be done inexpensively, and create better tests for research purposes to allow us to learn more about these genes and help save lives.” Merajver can be reached via Nicole Fawcett at (734) 764-2220 or nfawcett@umich.edu.

Gonçalo Abecasis, the Felix Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at the School of Public Health, develops statistical tools and computational methods that enable studies of genetic variation and its connections to human disease. His recent work has increased understanding of the genetics of psoriasis, macular degeneration, diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease, among others. “We’ll probably have to wait for the dust to settle to realize the full implications of this. But the decision seems to make it much easier to develop and apply genetic tests that examine the complete DNA sequence of individuals to predict disease risk — that could be a very big plus.” Abecasis can be reached at (734) 763-4901 or goncalo@umich.edu.

Beverly Yashar is a clinical associate professor of human genetics in the U-M Medical School and directs the graduate program in genetic counseling. She serves as a member of the pediatric genetic counseling team at the U-M Health System and performs genetic counseling outreach through the Michigan Department of Community Health. She notes that the decision will be highly significant for patients because of the potential impact on the cost of genetic testing by creating competitive markets. To reach Yashar, contact Kara Gavin at (734) 764-2220 or kegavin@umich.edu

Peter Jacobson, director of the Center for Law, Ethics and Health at the School of Public Health, is an attorney and a professor of health management and policy. His research focuses on the relationship between law and health care delivery, law and public health systems, public health ethics, and health care safety net services. Contact Jacobson at (734) 936-0928 or pdj@umich.edu.

Victoria Raymond is a certified genetic counselor with the Cancer Genetics Clinic at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Raymond counsels cancer patients who are at high risk of familial cancers and those who may be considering genetic testing. “I am encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling that isolated DNA cannot be patented. This ruling has the potential to increase access to informative genetic testing and reduce cost for individuals potentially at risk for these inherited conditions. The ruling that altered DNA, such as cDNA, has the potential to be patented will be important to watch closely as this outcome evolves, but will hopefully ensure biotech companies continue their interests in genetic research.” Raymond can be reached via Nicole Fawcett at (734) 764-2220 or nfawcett@umich.edu.

Erik Gordon is a Michigan Law Professor from Practice, director of the Law School’s Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program and managing director of the Wolverine Venture Fund. Gordon is available to discuss the policy balance the Court struck between denying companies the right to own our genes and encouraging investment in genomic medicine advances by leaving the door open to methods patents. He also can talk about what the decision means for patients and the industry.

“The Court carefully balanced the absurdity of a company owning genes produced by our bodies with the desirability of having companies invest in creating new and unexpected methods of using genetic information to create new drugs and diagnostics,” Gordon said. He can be reached at rmegordo@umich.edu or 734-764-5274.