European Court of Justice Rules Embryonic Stem Cell Research Not Patentable
October 19, 2011 9:47 AM
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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."
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10/19/2011 11:34:20 AM
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
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.
"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings
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