Health Highlights: April 16, 201304/16/13
Here are some of the latest health and medical news
developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Supreme Court Grapples With Gene Patent Questions
At a hearing Monday, members of the U.S. Supreme Court expressed
doubts that a gene could be patented but also questioned if a
decision to prohibit such patents would hinder medical and genetic
The court was hearing arguments in a case involving patents held
by Utah-based Myriad Genetics on genes linked with an increased
risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The justices are being asked to
consider whether isolated genes are "products of nature" that
cannot be patented or "human-made inventions" that are eligible for
The New York Timesreported.
"Why would a company incur massive investment if it cannot patent?" asked Justice Antonin Scalia, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that an isolated gene was "just nature sitting there."
The justices attempted to simplify the difficult legal and
scientific questions before them by using analogies such as the
production of baseball bats, making chocolate chip cookies or
finding plants with medicinal qualities,
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Christopher Hansen told
the court that Myriad deserved credit for its work, but not a
patent. "What exactly did Myriad invent?" Hansen asked. "The answer
Gregory Castanias, a lawyer for Myriad, argued that the genes
patented by the company do not occur in nature and were isolated
The court's decision could have a major impact on scientific
research and medical testing in the country. It may affect
thousands of patented genes along with medicines, vaccines and
genetically modified crops,
Chinese Boy Infected With New Bird Flu Shows No Symptoms
A newly diagnosed case of bird flu in a 4-year-old boy who has
no symptoms is adding to knowledge about the outbreak in China.
The boy in Beijing tested positive for the H7N9 virus and is
considered a carrier of the strain. Officials said Monday that the
boy has been placed under observation to see if he develops
The boy's infection was detected during a check of people who
had contact with a 7-year-old girl who on the weekend was confirmed
as Beijing's first case of H7N9. A neighbor of the boy bought
chicken from the girl's family.
The boy's case "is very meaningful because it shows that the
disease caused by this virus has a wide scope. It's not only
limited to critical symptoms. There can also be slight cases, and
even those who don't feel any abnormality at all. So we need to
understand this disease in a rational and scientific way," Beijing
Health Bureau Deputy Director Zhong Congpo said at a news briefing,
So far, the outbreak has caused 63 confirmed infections and 14
deaths in China.
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