News Briefs

Human gene patents rejected by high court

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently thrown out a lower court ruling that allows human genes to be patented. This topic is of great importance to cancer researchers, patients, and drugmakers.

The court overturned patents on two genes that were linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The American Civil Liberties Union had argued that genes couldn't be patented, and that position was shared by a district court judge but overturned on appeal.

This decision will send the case back down for a continuation of the battle between the scientists at Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, UT, who believe that genes should not be exploited for commercial gain, and companies which argue that a patent is a reward for years of expensive research that moves science forward.

In 2010, a federal judge ruled that genes cannot be patented. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said he invalidated the patents because DNA's existence in an isolated form does not alter the fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in neither the body nor the information it encodes. But last year, a divided panel of the federal appeals court that handles patent cases reversed the judge's ruling. The appeals court said genes can be patented because the isolated DNA has a "markedly different chemical structure" from DNA within the body.

The Supreme Court threw out that decision and sent the case back to the lower courts for rehearing. The high court said it sent the case back for rehearing because of its decision in another case saying that the laws of nature are not patentable.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have been awarding patents on human genes for almost 30 years.

Ex-VP given transplant — older than most recipients

Former vice president Dick Cheney has received a heart transplant at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, VA, the same hospital where he received an implanted heart pump in July 2010. At the age of 71, he is older than most organ transplant recipients. Fortunately for Cheney, advances in healthcare have made it possible for older patients to be viable transplant candidates.

Over the last 35 years, Cheney has suffered from five heart attacks, the first occurring when he was 37 years old. Physicians have indicated that Cheney must have been in excellent health to have survived that number of attacks and still be eligible for a heart transplant.

The age of 55 has traditionally been the accepted upper limit beyond which heart transplantation should not be considered.1 But older patients increasingly are receiving them, and there is no absolute cut-off age. The key seems to be co-morbidities. If other chronic conditions are absent, it greatly increases the health of the transplant recipient.

To qualify for a heart transplant, patients must have end-stage heart failure but be otherwise healthy enough to undergo heart transplant surgery. In the surgery, a donor heart is implanted into the patient to replace a heart that has become so diseased it is no longer able to pump enough blood to keep organs working properly.

Cheney had been on a waiting list for a heart transplant for 20 months, which is longer than the average wait time of six months to a year.


  • Hospital Report – To not grow old is to die young: Kidney donor pool expands.

For further analysis and discussion of topics important to hospital professionals, check out Hospital Report, AHC Media's new free blog at Medical Ethics Advisor's managing editor Felicia Willis contributes.


  1. Costanzo M, Augustine S, Bourge R, et al. Selection and treatment of candidates for heart transplantation. Circulation 1995;92:3593-3612.