Utah Board of Regents grants permanent approval to Center for Law and Biomedical Sciences

The state Board of Regents today granted permanent approval of the Center for Law and Biomedical Sciences at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

The move positions the center at the University of Utah to offer permanent resources and academic support on issues tied to improving the law as it relates to the rapidly evolving areas of health policy, the life sciences, biotechnology, bioethics and the medical and technological arts, in order to help overcome critical health care challenges.

 “New developments in the biosciences — genetics and personalized medicine, biomedical informatics, cognitive sciences, neuroscience and beyond — pose tremendous opportunities to improve health, as well as baffling challenges to both law and policy,” said Leslie Francis, a law professor and director of the center.  “In the attempt to understand, assess, and improve health conditions for local, national and global communities, the Center for Law and Biomedical Sciences focuses on contributing solutions to these new problem sets.”

The center and its faculty and students are involved in applied, interdisciplinary research, innovative teaching and training and public service and programming. The center was provisionally established three years ago, and it has grown into a stand-alone center that has sponsored and supported a number of academic initiatives including symposia; moot court competitions; contributing to the university’s role as an incubator of scientific discovery; working on pro bono activities at the medical-legal clinic; adding a pro bono guardianship project; and publishing a lively blog on emerging biomedicine and law issues.

The center has four full-time faculty members, one part-time faculty member and 10 student fellows. It sponsors a number of courses for university students, including a health law course for non-lawyers to an interdisciplinary group of students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other health sciences.

Among the center’s upcoming events is a symposium on Dec. 3- 4, in which the center will pair with University of Utah Health Sciences and the Huntsman Cancer Center to host the first-ever “Frontiers in Precision Medicine: Exploring Science and Policy Boundaries.”  The two-day event will cover a variety of topics —from how to personalize pediatric medicine to patenting precision medicine.

The December event comes in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address, in which he announced plans for the largest genomic study in history: the Precision Medicine Initiative.  With a cohort of one million Americans, the PMI is designed to increase understanding of the genetic basis of disease and forge the way for new diagnostic and therapeutic innovations.  The technology to undertake the project exists today, but many scientific, legal, economic and ethical questions about the PMI and the practice of precision medicine itself remain unanswered.   The symposium aims to address some of those questions, said Jorge Contreras, an associate professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law who holds a dual appointment as an adjunct professor in human genetics.

 The emerging field of precision medicine presents many important and novel legal issues that must be understood by any institution or company that hopes to participate in this exciting new field.  The Center for Law and Biomedical Sciences  at the College of Law is at the forefront in identifying, analyzing and educating the public about these issues,” said Contreras.

“For example, the national Precision Medicine Initiative hopes to enroll one million Americans in the world’s largest genetic study to date.  How can we ensure that proper consent is obtained from each of these individual participants in this massive study?  What rules and regulations cover the handling of their biological samples and personal health information?  How should researchers interact when sharing this data and using the results to seek genetic causes of disease, develop novel new diagnostics and create drugs and therapies based on the discoveries that are made?  How will patents impact the development of new drugs and therapies that are tailored to individual genetic makeups?  How will the safety and effectiveness of therapies be regulated when treatment may differ for individuals based on their genetic makeup? How should laws and judicial decisions concerning racial, ethnic and gender discrimination be applied when treatments may vary depending on these very characteristics?  And perhaps most importantly, how will our beleaguered healthcare system pay for precision medicine, from the massive research effort that is contemplated to the individualized therapies and diagnostics that may emerge?”

For more information on the new center, visit law.utah.edu/research/center-for-law-and-biomedical-sciences/.