By: Nonie Arora

While students from Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and UVA enjoyed lunch at the first Duke-UNC Bioethics Symposium, Neby Teklu, a Duke sophomore, spoke on property rights to excised tissue.

The circular relationship between people who contribute and benefit from medical research. Credit: Neby Teklu

According to Teklu, when deciding who owns the property rights, the conflict is between the patient — the source of tissue — and the physician or researcher — the possessor of the tissue. Teklu said she is concerned about whether some profits should be returned to people who serve as the source of cell lines when monetary gains are made from pharmaceutical research.

Teklu referenced the Belmont Report, a 1978 document created by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research to address ethical guidelines for human subjects research. The report stresses respect for patients, beneficence and justice.

Essentially, patient autonomy must be maintained. Patients should not be harmed, while benefits are maximized and harms are minimized, and there must be fair distribution of costs and benefits to research participants.

Still, the question remains whether patients have intellectual property rights over their bodies and should be financially compensated for profits from cell lines. Teklu argued that requiring consent for procedures done with excised tissue would hinder medical research.

Neby Teklu speaks at the Duke-UNC Bioethics Symposium. Courtesy of: Nonie Arora.

In the case of Greenberg v. Miami Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Inc., the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida found that “the research participant’s property right in blood and tissue samples … evaporates once the sample is voluntarily given to a third party.” The Supreme Court upheld this precedent in William Catalona v. Washington University, when they decided that the university, not the researcher nor patients, had rights to the tissue samples. The university could sell, license or use the samples any way it saw fit.

Clearly, there is a trade off between social benefits of science using samples from human subjects and individual patient rights, Teklu explained. She said she believes that medical research depends on the altruism of individuals and that requiring additional measures of consent for use of tissues would be harmful for the progress of medicine.

Other students also presented including Duke Research Blogger Pranali Dalvi and Wake Forest undergraduates Elizabeth Stuart and Muhammad Siddiqui. Topics ranged from health care rationing to post-trial access for expensive medications