Saturday, May 31, 2014

Collecting DNA thru donor milk

                     "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science
                       and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything
                       about science and technology."--Carl Sagan

According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), "The DNA of virtually every newborn in the United States is collected and tested soon after birth." Many states do not require parents' express permission to collect the DNA. Collecting the DNA is done through a newborn heel prick and part of the screening is for genetic disorders as well as serious health conditions that may impact the health of the infant.  This screening in the past was destroyed.  But in many states in the US these samples are held for years, or even indefinitely.

In 2010 CNN wrote an article entitled, "The government has your baby's DNA."  The article tells how some parents in Texas and Minnesota have filed lawsuits.  In the state I live in, Florida, babies DNA is stored indefinitely.  The article states, "Scientists have heralded this enormous collection of DNA samples as a "gold mine' for doing research.."  Concerned parents worry how this storage of DNA may impact their child's future, getting a job or health insurance.

A year ago, the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision authorized the collection of DNA by the police.  They consider it a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes but also it can be used to identify the suspect in custody.  The dissenting judges to this ruling cited the Fourth Amendment which "forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime."
Justice Scalia in his dissent stated, "Solving crimes is a noble objective, but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicion-less law enforcement searches.
NY Times article 6/4/13  "Justices Allow DNA Collection After an Arrest" by Adam Liptak

Collecting DNA seems to generate a lot of debate.  There are concerns about privacy and concerns regarding our civil liberties.  What is DNA?  DNA is an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid which is a double-stranded nucleic acid present in nearly every living cell.  RNA is usually a single-stranded nucleic acid.  It is the carrier of our genetic information.  DNA can be obtained from blood, a cheek swap, a finger print--anything you touched, hair, etc.  DNA is the blueprint of life.  It is the prized possession of researchers, particularly of interest to those who wish to make claims and patent upon parts of our DNA.  While DNA cannot be claimed on patents (recent US Supreme Court decision), cDNA is allowed.  Complementary DNA is derived from mRNA (messenger RNA) with the use of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase.  Biological information goes from DNA to RNA to protein and at times it goes from RNA to DNA.  Thus cDNA is derived from DNA but is created through a man-made enzymatic process.  I think of DNA as the starting material in the recipe to make cDNA.  And like any food recipe, there can be thousands of recipes to make cDNA.  The collection of DNA has become of great importance and financial profit for the biotech industry.

Of interest to breastfeeding advocates is that DNA is being collected in human milk (which is often called white blood).  Prolacta Bioscience has 3 patents, all are entitled, "Methods for testing milk."  patents 7943315, 8278046, 8628921.  The first was filed in 2008, second patent in 2011, and third patent in 2012.  Inventors are the same for all 3 patents:  Elena Medo, Martin Lee, and David Rechtman.  The abstract is the same for all three patents.  But the number of claims of each patent differ, as well as length of each patent document.  Testing of the donor milk is to establish or confirm the identity of the donor.  They will use identity markers, such as genes, alleles, loci, antigens, polypeptides or peptides or combinations.  They will be using DNA to profile the donated milk.

I have questions about private corporations or for that matter non-profit institutions collecting DNA from human milk. Were women given informed consent about the collection of DNA?  How long will they hold onto the DNA?  How will it be used? Privacy? It is interesting that there has been an uproar over the government collecting of DNA.  And now we have private industry collecting DNA through human milk.  This very same company is making a human milk infant formula.  Seems that there should be some kind of public discourse on this.  But I guess the social marketing of donating human milk is far more important. 
Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain

No comments:

Post a Comment