The Battle to Patent Human Stem Cells is On
Well, it appears that in the European Court of Justice, one decision could change the entire landscape of stem cell research, after years of “being quiet” in the mainstream media. The most recent news is that a top advisor to the court suggested that researchers should be able to patent human stem cells.
Currently, thee EU Biotech Directive has excluded human embryos from being patented. What is being questioned now however, is “what counts as an embryo”. Until recently, the stem cells were derived from human eggs and thus, would fall “under” the ruling that human embryos could not be patented.
So why is the case now open? Well, it looks like in a battle over “define thy terms,” a US-based company International Stem Cell Corporation, is arguing the following:
Since the stem cells derived from human embryos could never develop into a human being, they are thus NOT technically human embryos, and thus….patentable? They go on to point out that these stem cells are able to form human tissues, but they’re not able to form human beings as they don’t contain any genetic material from the father and again, NOT a human embryo.
As you might imagine, ISCC’s patent applications on these “cells” were rejected by the UK, which led them to appeal to the European Court of Justice. Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón agreed that these stem cells shouldn’t come under the definition of an embryo ( his opinion on the matter,). Furthermore, An EU release stated that “the mere fact that an unfertilised ovum is capable of engaging in a process of cell division and differentiation similar to that of a fertilized ovum does not suffice in itself to consider it as a human embryo.”