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Law program merges art, science

October 15, 2007

Genetic research and ethical and social issues in genomics and the field of law will take center stage Oct. 15 during a program involving scholars at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and interpretative dancers from the Eastern Seaboard.

“Big Pharma: Genetic Research and Patents on Nature” will feature a discussion with Andrew Askland, director of the College’s Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology, and Guy Cardineau, a center faculty fellow and research professor in the College of Life Sciences.
Following the discussion, performers from the Maryland-based Liz Lerman Dance Exchange will explore the issues raised, using movement exercises.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 15, in the Ronald Jay Cohen Student Center in Armstrong Hall.

The troupe will be on the ASU campus all week to participate in classes and various programs, and also will give a performance, “Ferocious Beauty: Genome,” at 7 p.m., Oct. 18, at ASU Gammage.

“Ferocious Beauty: Genome” is a multimedia dance performance that explores the human implications of discoveries in genetic science. The company’s presentation at the College of Law will complement the center’s research and instruction in genetics, says Elizabeth Johnson, associate artistic director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.

“Dance Exchange customizes residency activities to meet the needs and interests of the communities we visit, drawing on local resources and the investment and expertise they provide,” Johnson says. “Since the College of Law offers an exceptional LL.M. program (in biotechnology and genomics) that looks at the implications of genetic research on policy and law, we found an opportunity to use Dance Exchange as a catalyst to promote a discussion between the college and a wider community. We will use movement as a tool to understand information, and to promote dialogue about our personal perspectives.”

Askland says part of the discussion will examine the tendency to exploit important research that is revolutionizing health care.

“What we have is a ‘tragedy of the anticommons,’ ” Askland says, because competing patent rights can prevent useful and affordable products from reaching the marketplace.

Research that involves multiple genes can require payments of license fees to those holding patents for the relevant genes. At some point, the prospect of paying those fees overwhelms the interest in pursuing the research, he says.

“Every bit of genetic space is being occupied,” Askland says. “In fact, there are more gene patent applications pending than there are genes.”