Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Gene Patenting in 140 Characters or Less

By studying what people are saying on Twitter, researchers from the University of Alberta are gauging public perception of gene patenting in Canada.

As Alberta's Timothy Caulfield and his colleagues report in BMC Medical Ethics, they searched through more than 300 tweets that were sent following a lawsuit being filed by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario that seeks to invalidate patents on five genes associated with Long QT Syndrome. Canadian patent law, the researchers note, currently allows for gene patenting.

As Twitter has more than 300 million active users, Caulfield and his colleagues say that it's increasingly being viewed as a medium that can sway public perception.

"Given its important policy implications, as well as the controversial nature of gene patenting more generally, the lawsuit has provided a good opportunity to examine how Twitter users represent their attitudes toward the CHEO lawsuit and gene patenting issues generally," they argue.

Through their analysis, the researchers found that Twitter users responded quickly to the news of the lawsuit. About a third of the tweets sent supported the CHEO lawsuit and half were neutral in tone. But no tweet, the researchers say, explicitly supported gene patenting. They further report that the most common argument against gene patenting revolved around concerns regarding patients' access to care.

"Given the emerging role of social media in the framing of public dialogue, this sentiment could have an impact on the nature and tone of the Canadian policy debate," Caulfield and his colleagues say.