SYDNEY, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Australian infants with a severe form of epilepsy risk having their diagnoses delayed because of a company's patent on a key gene, a hospital official says.
It is the first reported evidence that private property rights over human DNA are adversely affecting medical care, the Sydney Morning Herald said.
Dr. Deepak Gill, head of neurology at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said if he could test in-house for the SCNIA gene, which would diagnose the disabling Dravet syndrome, he would test at least 50 per cent more infants.
But rights to the gene are controlled by Genetic Technologies, based in Melbourne, which has already threatened to stop public hospitals testing for breast cancer gene mutations, the report said.
Specialists are sending blood samples to Scotland, and only babies whose seizure patterns closely resemble Dravet syndrome are tested. Therefore, children with slightly different symptoms may be treated with the wrong medicines for months, potentially retarding their development, the report said.
SCN1A is the most important epilepsy gene discovered, Gill said, and is abnormal in about 70 per cent of children with Dravet syndrome, which affects about one in 30,000 babies -- almost 10 percent of infant epilepsy cases.
The situation comes amid growing concern among doctors and medical researchers over the ethics of granting private ownership to human DNA.