About this work
The 'gene raiders' of the title are biotechnology companies who seize genetic information freely available from the Sanger Centre's Human Genome research project, and use it not only to produce diagnostic tests at a profit, but also to take out patents on the genes involved. In this programme, British geneticists involved in the Human Genome project co-ordinated by the Sanger Centre, Cambridge, put their case against the private companies whose attitude to genetics is compared to gold prospecting. The particular issue is the work done by the Sanger Centre to identify a breast cancer gene; these results were used by a US biotechnology company to further their own research, claim credit for the work and file a patent for the gene. Volunteers who assisted the Cambridge scientists are angry at what they see as the commercial exploitation of their goodwill. A further issue is the propriety of marketing diagnostic tests for such serious conditions as cancer. A positive result does not meant that cancer is inevitable - nor does a negative result men that cancer will never occur. In spite of this, many women have elective surgery for the removal of healthy breasts and ovaries as result of such tests - radical surgery which still gives them no certain protection against cancer. The companies who market such tests are concerned with profit. The Cambridge scientists are concerned about the damage that can be done by such exploitation of their work and about the way this will affect people's attitude to the Human Genome Project. Taking part in the programme are Dr. David Bentley (Sanger Centre, Cambridge); Prof. Martin Bobrow (Addenbrooke's Hospital); Prof. Bruce Ponder (Addenbrooke's Hospital); Prof. Mike Stratton (Institute of Cancer Research); Dr. Craig Venter (Inst. of Genomic Research, US) and Mrs. Wendy Watson (volunteer in British search for breast cancer genes).
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