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European scientists worry that their research will instead flourish overseas

Embryonic stem cells have shown that they could eventually be very useful in the treatment of a range of currently incurable diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. But such research may be threatened, or even halted, in Europe due to a recent court decision.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to transform into any human body tissue. For instance, earlier this year, the first eye was grown from embryonic stem cells in mice. But to grow these tissues, stem cells must be removed from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, which destroys the embryo, and this has raised ethical questions regarding the process.

Greenpeace in Germany triggered a lawsuit saying that it is unethical to issue a patent based on stem cells from a human embryo that is destroyed afterward.

The Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, ruled in favor of the group. The ruling focused on a technique involving the conversion of human ambryonic stem cells into nerve cells.

"The use of human embryos for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it is patentable," said the European Court of Justice. "But their use for purposes of scientific research is not patentable. A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented."

The decision has many European researchers outraged. This ruling could either halt stem cell research in Europe or send it overseas.

"This unfortunate decision by the court leaves scientists in a ridiculous position," said Professor Austin Smith of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge. "We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the marketplace where they could be developed into new medicines. One consequence is that the benefits of our research will be reaped in America and Asia."

Source: BBC

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RE: Finally
By hankw on 10/19/2011 10:42:00 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not quite sure I understand the issue here. How does not getting this patent prevent them from continuing their research/work? It seems like this is something that should be shared across all medical communities anyways. Not sure why the patent is that important unless they want some exclusive rights for purely monetary gain.

RE: Finally
By zmatt on 10/19/2011 10:46:38 AM , Rating: 2
The people funding it don't like that decision so they will move the money to a jurisdiction where they can patent stem cells.

It's pretty messed up. There was an article here earlier this year talking about the debate more in depth. The problem is that the companies could patent mutations they find (they tried to do this) and if you are found to have it naturally occurring in your body they could sue you. Of course since they only found it and didn't create it logic says they shouldn't be able to patent it.

RE: Finally
By Mitch101 on 10/19/2011 11:39:06 AM , Rating: 3
I worked at Pfizer and they were the first patent trolls I thought of when seeing this. They wanted to patent the disease/cause so even if someone else finds a cure they reap some rewards. No love for humanity there you should all be on medication.

RE: Finally
By toyotabedzrock on 10/19/2011 9:15:20 PM , Rating: 2
All the steam cell and other medical research is funded by the government. Private business never takes on the that much risk.

RE: Finally
By Paj on 10/20/2011 7:15:43 AM , Rating: 2
You really believe that?

RE: Finally
By wiz220 on 10/19/2011 11:34:20 AM , Rating: 2
Ya, it's pretty sad that researchers are pretty much saying if they can't have an Apple-like monopoly on stem cells (acquiring ridiculous patents that lock everyone else out of the market) they won't do it at all.

This is very reminiscent of biotech firms patenting genes. The genes already existed, the firm just figured out that it was there and what it does. They didn't necessarily do anything derivative with it, they just patented it. So now anyone actually doing anything with that gene will have to pay the firm that patented it. Patents are killing electronic tech innovation, the next victim looks like it will be biotech. This is probably more saddening because lives may hang in the balance.

Kudos to the European court system for stopping this one in its tracks. If the entire world signed onto this decision the researchers would have no choice but to continue and simply make billions off of the techniques and therapies derived from the stem cells.

RE: Finally
By TSS on 10/19/2011 12:25:39 PM , Rating: 3
The problem here is explained perfectly by the researcher's own comment:

We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the marketplace

The marketplace does not equal the public good. Low cost techniques and better health for everybody is the public good. The marketplace does not create that. It helps creating it, but only in certain situations. The patent system isn't one of them.

If they are funded for private good, then their comment makes sense. But also, private good =/= public good, and this is definatly something we wanna keep for the public.

RE: Finally
By geddarkstorm on 10/19/2011 12:44:38 PM , Rating: 2
Hit the nail on the head. Our research is not -our- research. It belongs to whomever is funding us, usually the PUBLIC. This idea about "taking our discoveries to the marketplace" is odious. That's the job of corporations, universities, or the government--to apply and license our discoveries--not ourselves.

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