SF meets real life: US Government issues patents on human genes

GenesThis could be Science Fiction, but it isn’t. For the last twenty years, the US patent office has been issuing patents on human gene sequences. The ACLU sees this as a problem because:

… patent holders own the exclusive rights to those genetic sequences, their usage, and their chemical composition. Anyone who makes or uses a patented gene without permission of the patent holder – whether it be for commercial or noncommercial purposes – is committing patent infringement and can be sued by the patent holder for such infringement.

Lest you think this is for manufactured structures only, the patents includes such naturally occurring genes for asthma, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s. Those science-fictionally minded of you see where this could lead.

The ACLU goes on to report:

Last week, the New York Times reported that a Stanford engineer has developed a new technology to sequence the entire human genome for less than $50,000. This is a remarkable reduction from the $20 million estimate of three years ago, and it’s half the price currently offered by the personal genomics company Knome (pronounced “know-me”). Dr. Stephen Quake, the Stanford inventor, claims his new Heliscope Single Molecule Sequencer’s ability to decode a human genome in four weeks with a staff of three people will serve to “democratize access to the fruits of the genome revolution.”

The two articles together could make an interesting basis for a story.

3 Responses

  1. Jonathan Vos Post

    The big cost is NOT the genome sequencing, but understanding what it says about YOU — your metabolome, proteome, transcriptome, chronome, and other aspects of your phenotype. What future Nobel laureate Dr. Leroy “Lee” Hood, former Biology Chair at Caltech, has demonstrated at his Institute for Systems Biology, funded directly by
    Bill Gates, is as follows. Make tens of millions of measurements of the patient. Use AI techniques to compare the automatically analytically modeled data with the entire online literature of biomedicine. Diagnose all known diseases. Design a customized treatment with maximum chance of success and minimum side effects. Lee Hood told me that a million people will spend a million dollars each for the commercialized service. That pumps the first trillion dollars into the New Genetic Medical Care system. Then ten million people will spend $100,000 each as economy of scale brings down the price That pumps the second trillion dollars. Two Caltech Presidents agreed with me when we conversed on this. The “debate” sparked by Obama is a mere epiphenomenon. We shall soon look back on health care of 2009 the we we look back on bleeding the patient and using astrological prognoses. I’m not interested in writing this as fiction. It has been the basis of my PhD dissertation research 1973-1977, which subject is now known as Nanotechnology and Artificial Life. “Blood Music” was the paradigm shifting story (later novel). The world is slowly catching up. Destination: Immortality.

  2. Jonathan Vos Post

    For the personalized genetic medicine future that I described above, the skeptical reader needs to know if your metabolism is indeed personal. Otherwise the “one size fits all” medical diagnosis and treatment of today wll not easily be replaced. The results are as summarized here, in a press release today:

    An Inner ‘Fingerprint’ For Personalizing Medical Care

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090722110859.htm

    “Doctors have dreamed of using such tests for the early diagnosis of disease and personalized medical care. They could pick drugs and treatments that are best for each individual, rather than today’s one-size-fits all medicine. To do so, however, doctors need evidence that the metabolic fingerprint remains stable over a period of years, with changes due to disease or medications, for instance, but not advancing age or other factors. The new study provides that evidence, based on the analysis of over 1,800 urine samples from people monitored for 2-3 years. Researchers could identify individual patients from their metabolic profiles with an accuracy of over 99 percent. The study could pave the way for using metabolic profiling to apply personalized medical care, the researchers suggest.”

    I wasn’t going to follow-up the prior comment, but this summary of Bernini et al. Individual Human Phenotypes in Metabolic Space and Time. Journal of Proteome Research, 2009, was completely on-topic.

    However, to keep this short, I’ll omit my anecdote about myself, Lee Hood, and the representative from the Smithsonian. After all, this is not a short short story that needs more characters and plot. My personal treatment now begins with the morning’s first cup of coffee.

  3. Jonathan Vos Post

    Network strategies to understand the aging process and help age-related drug design
    Authors: Gabor I. Simko, David Gyurko, Daniel V. Veres, Tibor Nanasi, Peter Csermely
    (Submitted on 31 Aug 2009)
    http://arxiv.org/abs/0908.4508
    [that URL gives the following abstract, and links to PDF of full paper].

    Abstract: Recent studies have demonstrated that network approaches are highly appropriate tools to understand the extreme complexity of the aging process. The generality of the network concept helps to define and study the aging of technological, social networks and ecosystems, which may give novel concepts to cure age-related diseases. The current review focuses on the role of protein-protein interaction networks (interactomes) in aging. Hubs and inter-modular elements of both interactomes and signaling networks are key regulators of the aging process. Aging induces an increase in the permeability of several cellular compartments, such as the cell nucleus, introducing gross changes in the representation of network structures. The large overlap between aging genes and genes of age-related major diseases makes drugs which aid healthy aging promising candidates for the prevention and treatment of age-related diseases, such as cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders. We also discuss a number of possible research options to further explore the potential of the network concept in this important field, and show that multi-target drugs (representing “magic-buckshots” instead of the traditional “magic bullets”) may become an especially useful class of age-related future drugs.