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Question about culture/business/whatever of medical science?

  1. Aug 22, 2009 #1


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    I'm pretty much a science noob. When some lab discovers a new process for fertility, or a new genetic test, or a new method for making clones or stem cells or whatever, how is this process or method shared? Or is it shared? Do they go out and get patents? Guard their secrets? Share them for the benefit of mankind, sell them, what?

    A good example is Venter's announcement that his group is close to what he calls artificial life. Will he be sharing the procedures he develops? If so, with whom, and how? Are there any books or other learning materials that explain everything a curious person could want to know about these aspects of the culture/business/whatever of life sciences, medical sciences, etc?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2009 #2


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    There's no one answer to this question.

    In general, from an academic point of view, as soon as you develop something new in the field, you write up your work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. That way it is subject to rigorous scientific evaluation before it becomes open knowledge. Professors and academics are expected to publish on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, as some processes or ideas can lead to significant financial gain for the inventor, the inventor can seek a patent to protect his or her intellectual property. Sometimes people can be tight-lipped about such ideas until the patent is issued, which can take time.
  4. Aug 22, 2009 #3


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    Could you elaborate on what you mean by "from an academic point of view"? To whom does this generality apply? People like Venter? The folks who cloned Dolly?

    When you "write something up" for peer review, what does that mean? You're giving away the farm, so to speak? I guess so, since part of the purpose of peer review is reproducibility, right? After all it's not really science if it can't be reproduced, right?

    You say "before it becomes open knowledge," but is that much of a distinction? I mean, it isn't hard to get hold of stuff submitted for peer review is it?
    Sure, but that doesn't apply to e.g. Venter or the Dolly guys, does it?

    I don't understand. Why wouldn't they be tight-lipped after a patent is issued, too? Say I patent a process for use during IVF to correct a gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis (or whatever), what have I gained by patenting it? And is this normally how this sort of thing would be done, assuming I'm working for a private firm? And if I'm working in academia, I'm assumed to give it away for prestige and a bigger office?

    I'm mystified how new methods propagate. If I'm in private practice and I develop a new super-effective fertility treatment, wouldn't it behoove me to hoard this knowledge and make everyone line up at my clinic? Yet, this doesn't seem to be the way it goes. It seems that before long, everyone's using the new methods.
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