Human genes cannot be patented the US Supreme Court ruled Thursday, in a decision that could have a major impact on genetic research.
The unanimous ruling on the Myriad Genetics case struck down two patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which are linked to a hereditary risk for ovarian and breast cancer.
Lower courts had previously upheld the patents, but the justices said in the ruling that the DNA comes from nature and is therefore not eligible for patenting.
However, in what seems a compromise in the decision, the court ruled that although the naturally occurring, biological material of a gene cannot be patented, a synthetic form of genes may be.
With a growing trend of personalized medicine, and increased research into the uses of stem cells, this is seen as a landmark ruling in the scientific sphere.
Myriad argued that they have the right to keep their exclusive patents on the BRCA genes, because their isolation of the genes outside the body is sufficient to make them no longer a product of nature, but a product of man.
Thursday's ruling states that Myriad's claims are not saved "by the fact that isolating DNA from the human genome severs chemical bonds and thereby creates a nonnaturally occurring molecule."
On the other side of the debate, this is a win for doctor's groups, patient advocates and many scientists who accused Myriad of using its patents to create a monopoly on clinical testing and research surrounding the genes.