ACLU Sues Over Human Gene Patents Curtailing Cancer Research

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Patents on two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancers are being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that patenting pure genes is unconstitutional and hinders research for a cancer cure.

"Knowledge about our own bodies and the ability to make decisions about our health care are some of our most personal and fundamental rights," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The government should not be granting private entities control over something as personal and basic to who we are as our genes."

The ACLU, joined by Yeshiva University's law school, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in southern New York against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Utah-based Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation.

Myriad and the research foundation hold patents on the pair of genes -- known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- that are responsible for many cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

The ACLU contends that patenting the genes limits research and the free flow of information, and as a result violates the First Amendment. The lawsuit also challenges genetic patenting in general, noting that about 20 percent of all human genes are patented -- including genes associated with Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy and asthma.

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