Alzheimer's mice at center of academic vs. property rights

Nature News tells a tale involving transgenic mice, the future of Alzheimer's research and property rights. In the end, it sounds as though the only winners will be the lawyers. At issue is the Alzheimer's Institute of America (AIA), which filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the Jackson Laboratory in Maine, which is a source of lab mice funded by the National Institutes of Health. The AIA owns the patent on a human DNA sequence used in the mouse models of the "Swedish mutation" of Alzheimer's disease. The mutation was discovered in a Swedish family and causes early-onset Alzheimer's.

The AIA alleges that Jackson infringed on its Swedish mutation patent when the lab distributed 22 strains of mice with the mutation to the researchers, Nature reports. The lawsuit accuses six companies of improperly profiting from the Swedish mutation by using them to test potential drugs. And, in a move that appears to be causing the most outrage in the Alzheimer's research community, the AIA is demanding that Jackson name names--hand over all the scientists who have worked with the mouse models involved in the lawsuit, presumably so they, too, can be sued.

Jackson says that because the NIH funds it to breed, house and distribute the mouse models, NIH rules require it to share the transgenic mouse strains. The AIA, for its part, says that it is not stifling academic research, but does not permit work that profits from patents that it owns.

"Jackson Laboratory is not giving away the mice for academic research," Nature quotes from a statement by the AIA. "On the contrary, these mice are being sold, and Jackson Laboratory is making quite a lot of money in the process. Furthermore, the mice Jackson sells are, in many instances, being used for commercial, not academic, purposes."

Jackson Laboratory says that it does not have the money to fend off the litigation, so it is asking for help from the NIH, which is considering the request.

- read the whole story in Nature News