Working With Stem Cells? Pay Up

What the Wisconsin patent stranglehold means for researchers.

Glenn McGee
Nov 1, 2006

In August 2001, I told a US Senate subcommittee that as much as half of stem cell revenue would likely end up going to patent holders because of absurd patents on the human embryo. No one seemed to care. The debate over embryonic stem cells then was whether it was ethical to do research on them.

That is mostly still true, but it won't be for much longer. With $3 billion for stem cell research coming down the chute in California, researchers are terrified. They fear that their own innovations will be credited inappropriately or result in unfair profits, because they will have to license the basic stuff of life from the University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Wisconsin is the home of James Thomson, the researcher who successfully identified and cultured human embryonic pluripotent stem cells, roughly simultaneous to a similar experiment by John Gearhart at Johns Hopkins....

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