The Supreme Court's recent decision ruling that human genes cannot be patented will have a wide reaching effect on the future of genetics and medicine. One immediate effect is that Myriad Genetics' patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes — two genes linked to cancer — is no longer valid. Nevertheless, the company's stock has risen following the announcement.

To understand why, it helps to understand the nature of patents and their relationship to the scientific community. Patents have been a part of intellectual property and the economy in America since 1790. The first Congress adopted a Patent Act in the Constitution in order to "...promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries...." Put simply, patents allow people to protect the rights to their intellectual property, or things they make or discover, and the ability to charge others for its use.

In science today, many discoveries made are crucial to our understanding of disease prevention and control. Similarly, pharmaceutical company access to that information can aid the development of drugs to ensure that disease's eradication.

Patents in science, however, can be dangerous for disease prevention and the economy. If a scientist holds a patent over his findings regarding, say, the mechanism by which colds occur, then biotechnology companies that can make drugs to treat this mechanism have no access to the data. Similarly, the company with the patent can set the price as high or low as it wants, as it's the ony one with the valuable data. This strategy often eliminates a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company's ability to purchase the data for use. Often, the remedies offered by the company claiming the patent can also be priced unreasonably high for similar reasons - they are the only ones with access to both the treatment as well as the data that led to its development.

Patents on genes found are very dangerous. These patents or rights to ownership prevent biotechnology companies from accessing genetic information that can be vital to treating diseases and disorders like autism and cancer (but only if pharmaceutical companies have access to the data). However, according to the Associated Press, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been awarding patents on human genes for 30 years.

Molecular diagnostic company Myriad Genetics, for example, held a patent over BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and the genetic test to examine for abnormalities and a predisposition to cancer since 1996. This has kept other companies from developing more affordable genetic tests so that the public could have greater access and better awareness of their health risks. Nevertheless, Myriad firmly held the stance that the patent belonged to only its company and that all breast cancer studies would have to be done through them.

Notably, Angelina Jolie's decision in May to have a mastectomy was influenced by the result of her genetic test from Myriad. However, Bloomberg reports that the test, to ensure the normality of just two genes, costs up to $4000. While the test is no doubt lifesaving, it's certainly not accessible and affordable to all, especially given the frequency of breast cancer in the population.

Science reports that Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a unanimous court, "Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention...groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy" the requirements for winning a patent. He indicated that Myriad should not have been granted a patent over the information in the first place.

But now, access should no longer be an issue. The Supreme Court rules that naturally occurring human genes and information can no longer be patented. This ruling opens up the possibility for research and development of better and affordable genetic testing. This is part of the optimism associated with Myriad — investors believe that huge advances will be made in the near future, and Myriad could be at the forefront.

After all, the Supreme Court ruling only applies to "naturally occuring" DNA. Myriad (and other genetics research companies) can still create and patent "synthetically created" DNA, including the cDNA versions of any naturally occuring genes.

The Supreme Court ruling will reduce the barriers to genetic testing and cancer prevention, and may greatly reduce the impact of cancer and other hereditary disorders on the human population.