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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Could Your Cells Be Worth Millions?

Almost everyone has a fairly unique genome, and occasionally an outlier is identified with a body that produces something unique and particularly valuable to science or medicine. My brother has an unusual "clean" type of blood that can easily be given to infants, so he gets a call from his local hospital every once in a while. Even rarer is a person who can make medicine with his blood, like Ted Slavin.
Born with hemophilia, a genetic disorder that impairs the blood's ability to clot, Slavin received blood transfusions repeatedly throughout his life. This never-ending process unfortunately exposed him to hepatitis B on countless occasions. Though Slavin's blood refused to clot, it demonstrated incredible resiliency to the viral hepatitis invaders. When his doctor tested his blood, he found a wealth of hepatitis B antibodies, Y-shaped proteins uniquely suited to fighting off the infection. The discovery blasted open a goldmine for both Slavin and scientists. They needed antibodies for research; he needed money. Slavin began charging as much as $10 for every milliliter of his blood. Pharmaceutical companies bought it wholesale. Slavin's body was now his business.
Not all unique genomes are a goldmine for the producer, though. You can read Slavin's story, plus that of a woman who willingly gives her blood away for research, and the tangled story of another person who was cut out of the profits from his own tissues, at Real Clear Science. 

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