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A Bountiful Hairy Spleen by Michael Katz
published in Volume 8, Issue 1 on July 1st, 2001

John Moore was a young engineer from Seattle, with a wife and two small daughters. In 1976, while working on the Alaskan pipeline, he reported to the medical clinic with fever and swollen lymph nodes. Blood tests revealed the parasitic protozoan disease toxoplasmosis, for which he was treated with the drugs sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine. However, at the same time, doctors found that Moore's spleen was markedly enlarged and that he had a low white blood cell count. Many of his white cells looked spiky, and the doctors feared that Moore had a lymphoid neoplasm known as hairy-cell leukemia.

The local doctors were pessimistic -- they told Moore that without treatment he might live for only six months. The doctors suggested that Moore go to a research medical center where he could benefit from forefront expertise. On October 5, 1976, John Moore entered the hospital of the University of California at Los Angeles under the care of a well-known hematologist and oncologist, Dr. David W. Golde.

Dr. Golde found that John Moore did indeed have hairy-cell leukemia. Chemotherapy was not effective in treating this type of leukemia, and Dr. Golde advised that a splenectomy was the best hope for slowing or perhaps even stopping the disease. On October 20, Dr. Kenneth Fleming operated and removed Moore's spleen. A normal spleen weighs less than 14 oz; Moore's spleen weighed 14 lbs.

John Moore recovered. He went home to Seattle, but Dr. Golde insisted that Moore return to Los Angeles at least twice a year for follow-up tests. Over the next eight years, Mr. Moore had no further symptoms and began a successful beverage distribution company in Seattle. As time went on, Moore began to resist Dr. Golde's pressure for him to visit Los Angeles. Moore suggested that his Seattle physician administer the blood tests and send the results to Dr. Golde. Dr. Golde replied that this was not a good idea and he offered to defray expenses by putting Moore up at the Beverly Willshire Hotel using Golde's research funds. "I had these feelings or senses that some things were going on that I didn't know about," said Moore later.

In September of 1983, Moore was required by the staff of the UCLA medical center to sign a consent form that ended: "I voluntarily grant to the University of California any and all rights I, or my heirs, may have in any cell line or any other potential product which might be developed from the blood and/or bone marrow obtained from me." John Moore refused to sign. He left the hospital and immediately hired a medical malpractice attorney, Stanford M. Gage of Beverly Hills.

Mr. Gage discovered that on January 6, 1983, Dr. Golde and his research assistant, Shirley Quan, had applied for a patent for "A Unique T-Lymphocyte Line and Products Derived Therefrom." The U.S. patent (no. 4,438,032) was granted on March 10, 1984 to the Regents of the University of California, naming Golde and Quan as the inventors; the patent application called the cell line MO and stated that it was derived from a 30 year old patient living in Seattle. Gage took the Regents to court. Years of litigation followed. On July 9, 1990, the Supreme Court of California ruled that John Moore did not have a property-rights interest in his own spleen.

Today, Dr. Golde is Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the School of Medicine of the University of California at Los Angeles. The stock that he received for assigning his MO-cell patent rights to Genetics Inc. and Sandoz is worth over five million dollars. Mr. Moore remains healthy and says: "The issue that I find so bizarre is that these guys could claim as theirs something that was totally mine, genetically mine. They could claim it for themselves - claim ownership - but I couldn't. And they had no obligation to inform me. ... It was confusing and upsetting to me, to say the least. I guess I was a little angry, too. Maybe I should have been more confrontational, but it was difficult for me to confront this man who had taken on the status of my savior."

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