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20 Jan 2022

Doctor at Maynooth University awarded €1.5 million grant for ‘PatentsInHumans’ biology project

Doctor at Maynooth University awarded €1.5 million grant for ‘PatentsInHumans’ biology project

Maynooth University

An academic doctor at Maynooth University (MU) has been awarded a €1.5 million grant for her 'PatentsInHumans' biology project.

MU have confirmed that Dr Aisling McMahon, an Associate Professor in the School of Law and Criminology, was given a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant worth €1.5 million to undertake a five-year research project examining the bioethical implications posed by patents over technologies related to the human body.

Dr McMahon will lead a team of four researchers on the project entitled 'PatentsInHumans' which will investigate and potentially lay the foundation for the bioethical implications of patents over technologies which relate to the human body.

These ethical issues concern a myriad of factors relating to human biology, including: medicines, human genes, elements of diagnostic tests, prosthetic limbs, and human enhancement technologies for instance and potential future uses of brain implant technologies.

Patents allow rightsholders to control how patented technologies are accessed and by whom: therefore, patents granted over technologies related to the human body and how they are licensed can have significant implications for how we treat, use and modify our human bodies. 

Upon receiving this award, Dr McMahon said: "I am delighted and honoured to be awarded this ERC grant, it will allow me to develop a comprehensive and much-needed analysis of the bioethical implications posed by patents over technologies related to the human body.

Dr Aisling McMahon, Associate Professor in the School of Law and Criminology, Maynooth University

"Under the current European patent system, the human body itself is not patentable.... however, many technologies that relate to the human body, such as medicines, isolated human genes, and medical devices are patentable.

She continued: "Given the blurring between the human body and patentable technologies, such patents can pose significant bioethical implications affecting how we treat, use, and modify our bodies.

"We see this in many contexts including COVID-19; yet such bioethical implications are often marginalised within patent decision-making.

"This project aims to understand and bridge the disconnect between bioethics and patent law and ultimately, to reimagine European patent decision-making to incorporate bioethical considerations within it, Dr McMahon concluded.

Dr McMahon also paid tribute to the research environment in MU: “I would like to acknowledge the strong research culture and environment provided by the School of Law and Criminology, led by Head of School Professor Michael Doherty, and MU more generally in encouraging and supporting this application.

"I am also very grateful for the incredible support and advice provided by our fantastic Research Development Office throughout the application process."

Professor Eeva Leinonen, President of MU, also commended Dr McMahon on her success.

ERC Starting Grants are designed to support excellent academics and researchers to help them establish their own independent research team or programme. 

In fact, the highly prestigious ERC award is viewed as the "gold standard" for research funding in Europe.

Dr McMahon's ERC grant the second one to be awarded to members of the School of Law and Criminology at MU over the past two years, and follows a €2million ERC Consolidator grant awarded to Professor Delia Ferri in 2019 for her project ‘DANCING’.

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