As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan questioned Myriad Genetics’ attorney about patenting genes, Chris Hansen rejoiced.
The attorney said that yes, genes should be patentable. But it was only under the pressure of further questions that he said that chromosomes, too, should be patentable, and — more reluctantly still — organs such as kidneys.
“It was all I could do to not leap out of my chair and go, ‘Yaaay!’ ” Hansen said of the spring hearing.
To Hansen, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer who led the lawsuit against Myriad Genetics’ patents of two human breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, the exchange augured well for the case’s outcome. The line of questioning seemed to bolster the ACLU’s argument that the genes were a product of nature, like a kidney, and so by law, not patentable. In isolating the genes for breast cancer, it argued, Myriad invented nothing that wasn’t already there.
Hansen discussed the proceedings and the decision’s ramifications Tuesday at the Science Center. He was joined by George Church, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School; Professor I. Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School; Judy Norsigian, executive director Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit focused on women’s health; and Tania Simoncelli, former ACLU science adviser and today assistant director for forensic sciences with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Sheila Jasanoff, the Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology at the Kennedy School, served as moderator.