Gene Patents: Prevention, Investigations, and Treatments

Nowadays, genetics is supposed to be one of the most rapidly developing areas of scientific knowledge. In fact, many of its achievements can quickly find the practical application in the field of medicine and public health. Many scientists believe that the future biology and medicine will be completely based on the foundation of the genetics. Nevertheless, the constant appearance of new ethical and legal issues inevitably accompanies such a rapid progress of medical genetics. Based on the facts mentioned above, the following paper seeks to provide the analysis of the ethical dilemma related to genes patents, analyze the pros and cons of the mentioned bioethical dilemma as well as provide the recommendations for its solution.

Ethical Dilemma of Genes Patents

At first glance, the phrase ‘gene patent’ sounds like an absurd as it seems impossible to assign the right to an invention that came up with nature. However, at the moment, it is a fairly common practice. According to the various estimates, approximately 10-20 % of the human genome, including genes associated with the development of muscular dystrophy, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancers of the spectrum are already patented. Of course, if an individual is the owner of a patented gene, the company has no legal rights to any part of the human body. However, if a person wants to know whether he or she has the specific gene in the DNA, then he/ she will need the company’s permission to do that.

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In other words, the gene patent implies a patent for the particular gene sequences, its chemical composition, the process for its preparation, use, or a combination of such requirements. In fact, gene patents can be considered as the elements of the broader category of biological patents. Gene patents may require the use of isolated natural gene sequences for diagnostic or testing purposes. However, the natural sequence of genes can be modified by adding a patron or other changes to make it more useful.

Currently, the field of gene technology development and use has some issues related to the ethical concerns such as the use of genetic technologies to improve human nature, the problem of various population sections access to achievements of the genetic industry and the possibility of their use. Also, it includes the problem of genetic screening and population genetic certification, genetic information secrets preserving, the issue of the commercialization process of genetic information use and genetic engineering as well as scientific problems in the field of development and improvement of genetic engineering research.

The modern scientific knowledge and technology can be used to address some of the issues mentioned. However, the problem of morally permissible limits, condition, and criteria for the application of gene technology still arises wondering about the extent, conditions, and appropriate purposes to which the genetic engineering may be applied (Corderoy, 2013a).

The research in the framework of the international project of human genome became a landmark step in the field of genetic research and gene technology development. The work on this project was conducted in many countries of the world including the US, Japan, Canada, Russia, and other European Union countries. The purpose of the project was to describe the nucleotide sequences of human chromosomes DNA. As a result of research, there has been drawn up a complete map of the human genome. The ongoing studies are devoted to the localization of genes therein. Every year, the researchers open more genes responsible for the occurrence of specific diseases or predisposing them. Currently, there have been identified and sequenced the genes responsible for obesity, epilepsy, blindness, high blood pressure, asthma, osteoporosis, melanoma, regulation of growth, arthritis, breast and ovarian cancer, cardiovascular and Parkinson’s disease. There has been established the genetic basis of many psychiatric disorders, such as autism, mood disorders, schizophrenia, etc. However, methods for correcting genetic diseases have not been fully developed yet. From one point of view, it means that gene patents can help to overcome many illnesses. On the contrary, it can be used as the source of financial profit for corporations as well as the source of negative outcomes for the future generations’ health.

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In 2009, Myriad Genetics, the Department of the University of Utah and the US Patent Office were suited to the court demanding to revoke the company’s patents on the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Therefore, it led to considerable distress among pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and, seemingly, the joy and benefit of ordinary patients. In fact, some patents granted by Myriad Genetics in the 1990s cover not only DNA sequence but also the area of diagnosis abnormalities in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Thus, any company offering such tests is required to pay royalties to Myriad Genetics. According to the complainants, it leads to test prices increase (up to $ 3000) sharply limiting the range of patients who can benefit from them (Sharples, 2011). The purpose of the suit was aimed to stop such kind of practice. The lawsuit mentioned above is supposed to be the example of the negative outcomes of gene patents use by the large corporations as well as the complete absence of the beneficial results to the ordinary people.

The human genome study may lead to the declassification of personal information and new levels of discrimination (Corderoy, 2013b). For example, the authorities may refuse health insurance for some people based on the bad genes presence. One can easily imagine the next level of discrimination against those whose genetic profiles indicate that, for example, they are less intelligent or predisposed to the emergence of certain diseases.

It means that not all scientists are optimistic about genetic engineering. Erwin Chargaff, a prominent biochemist, who is often called the father of molecular biology, is supposed to be among the skeptics. He warns that not all innovations lead to progress. In fact, Chargoff once called genetic engineering as the ‘molecular Auschwitz’ and warned that genetic engineering technology puts the world under a bigger threat than nuclear technology arrival. In fact, the modern science has transgressed a barrier that should remain intact.

Being the significant element of the health care system, nurses should understand the role of gene engineering in the future medicine development. Although the advanced practice nurses should realize the necessity of the scientific development, they should understand that patients’ safety and efficient treatment should imply the key priority. Thus, the issue of support or opposition to the gene patents should be precisely evaluated.

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Conclusions and Recommendations

The issue of the gene patents is supposed to be among the most controversial in the modern scientific and health care practice. Modern people increasingly refuse to understand themselves as passive material in the hands of higher powers (God, Nature). Hence, they are becoming more strengthened in the assessment of themselves as the creators of life itself. All these characteristics of the anthropocentric worldview paradigm should be based on the understanding of bioethics as a system of new ethical standards.

The DNA diagnosis can reveal the presence of diseases caused by genetic disorders as well as to identify the predisposition to many physical and mental illnesses. Detection of susceptibility to the disease development may allow the health care workers to take appropriate preventive measures. However, the implementation of the DNA results affects the area of life values and strategies of the behavior of only one person who makes the decision on how to use the information about personal health he or she had received. In fact, the problem of secrecy of medical information and the resulting problems of using genetic information while performing the adult’s DNA genetic diagnosis comes to the fore. The possibilities of modern genetic technologies to obtain information about the individuals’ existing anomalies in the genetic apparatus and the associated likelihood of specific disease development raise the question of the need and desirability of such information to the patient.

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