Stem cells are in news now days and this is because a British researcher John Gurdon and a Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine on 8th October, 2012 for discovering that ordinary cells of the body can be reprogrammed into stem cells, which then can turn into any kind of tissue. It is a discovery that may lead to new treatments.

In 1962, Gurdon showed to the world that the DNA from specialized cells (skin or intestine) of frogs could be used to generate new tadpoles. That showed the ability of DNA to drive the formation of all cells of the body. Yamanaka gave a method to get primitive cells without destroying embryos. Basically, the primitive cells were the equivalent of embryonic stem cells, which had been embroiled in controversy because to get human embryonic cells, human embryos had to be destroyed.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the biological cells found in all multicellular organisms, that can divide and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types can self replicate to produce more stem cells. In mammals there are two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts and adult stem cells are found in various tissues.

According to an old definition, stem cell must have these two characteristics:

§ Self-renewal:The ability to go through numerous cycles of cell division while maintaining the undifferentiated state.

§ Potency:It is the capacity of stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types. This requires stem cells to be either totipotent or pluripotent—to be able to give rise to any mature cell type, although multipotent or unipotent progenitor cells are sometimes referred to as stem cells. Apart from this it is said that stem cell function is regulated in a feedback mechanism.

How stem cells work?

The first step to work with the stem cell is to establish stem cell lines. Next step is to differentiate stem cells into any cell as researcher wants. It is not as easy as it looks in paper. It is still a mystery for scientist how stem cells differentiate into different cells and then forms a complete tissue resulting in the formation of an organ. It will be of too much help for the medical fraternity as drugs can be tested on the drugs in-vitro and also stem cells could be used for cell therapies. For example, let’s say someone want to test new drugs to treat heart diseases then with the help of stem cells he can do the testing directly on heart cells and he would not be needing animals or clinical trials to prove efficacy of his drug. Currently, new drugs must be tested on animals. The data from animal research must be interpreted and then extrapolated to humans prior to human clinical trials. The data would be directly applicable to humans. This use could save vast amounts of time and money in bringing new drugs to market.

Major problem in use of stem cell

One major obstacle in stem cell use is the problem of rejection. If a patient is injected with stem cells taken from a donated embryo, his immune system may see the cells as foreign invaders and launch an attack against them. Using adult stem cells could overcome this problem somewhat, since stem cells taken from the patient would not be rejected by his or her immune system. But adult stem cells are less flexible than embryonic stem cells and are harder to manipulate in the lab.

Is stem cell technology patentable?

Different countries have different laws for patenting stem cell technology.

In Europe patents to embryonic stem cells are not granted. In Europe, the Biotechnology Directive (98/44/EC) (the Directive) rules out patentability for certain inventions, including “uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes”. Article 6(2) (c) of Directive 98/44 must be interpreted as meaning that: “any human ovum after fertilization, any non-fertilized human ovum into which the cell nucleus from a mature human cell has been transplanted, and any non-fertilized human ovum whose division and further development have been stimulated by parthenogenesis constitute a ‘human embryo’”.The Examining Division had interpreted Article 53(a) and Rule 28(c) EPC too broadly, and that the correct interpretation confines the exclusion in Rule 28(c) to uses of human embryos, whilst products resulting from such uses were intended to be omitted from the exclusion.

The patenting of stem cells is far less restrictive in the US than in Europe. Inventions relating to pluripotent, but not totipotent, human embryonic stem cells are patentable in the US, regardless of whether the practice of such inventions involves the destruction of a human embryo. WARF, for example, has obtained several patents relating to human embryonic stem cells. This is because US patent law has no morality requirement for patentability. Thus, that WARF’s claimed invention could only be practiced, at the time of filing, through the destruction of a human embryo was of no consequence under US patent law.

In India any product or process of a technology is patentable subject matter. However, the Patents Act, 1970 under Section 3 provides a long list of inventions that are excluded from patentable subject matter, which includes biotechnology inventions.Discovery of any living thing occurring in nature is not patentable subject matter in India. However, microorganisms and microbiological processes are patentable subject matter. Genetically modified multicellular organisms including plants, animals, human beings and their parts are excluded from patentability in India. Gene sequences and DNA sequences having disclosed functions are considered patentable in India. However, human beings and embryonic stem cells are not patentable. Furthermore, methods of medical treatment are also prohibited from patentability in India.

This is a never ending speech of whether patents on stem cells should be granted or not. This is because of the reason that this technology has many pros and cons. Pros of this technology includes regenerative medicine, no clinical trials (saving animals), and cure for incurable diseases. Cons of this technology include cloning, use of this technology to make bio-weapons, and other threats.

From my perspective patents should be granted on stem cells because with the advancement in this technology there will be more growth of the nation and ailments won’t be there. Even if there are ailments than they would be curable by use of stem cell therapy.