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Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not Be Patented

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision that is likely to shape the future of medical and biotech research.

Those who challenged the notion that something that occurs naturally in the human body can be "owned" by a company said the decision could open a new era of expanded research and lower costs for genetic testing.

At the same time, the ruling held out hope for industry that certain research methods and the creation of synthetic DNA can be protected and thus worth the investment.

"Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation," said Sandra Park of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented doctors, researchers and cancer patients who brought the challenge.

"Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing, and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued."

The issue received national attention last month when actress Angelina Jolie revealed that she had a double mastectomy because genetic testing showed she carried a defective gene that greatly increased her chance for cancer.