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Legal academic to probe bioethics of human-body technologies
Dr Aisling McMahon

10 Jan 2022 / education Print

Legal academic to probe human-body tech bioethics

Maynooth University legal academic Dr Aisling McMahon has been awarded a €1.5 million European Research Council (ERC) grant for a five-year research project examining the bioethical implications of human-body technology patents.

Dr McMahon (associate professor in the School of Law and Criminology) will lead a team of four researchers on the project entitled ‘PatentsInHumans’, which will formulate pathways to bring bioethics into European patent decision-making. 

The work will investigate the bioethical implications of patents over technologies such as:

  • Medicines,
  • Human genes,
  • Elements of diagnostic tests,
  • Prosthetic limbs, and
  • Human enhancement technologies, such as potential future uses of brain-implant technologies.


Patents allow rights-holders to control how patented technologies are accessed, and by whom.

Therefore, such patents and how they are licensed can have significant implications for how human bodies are treated, used, and modified.

This is the second ERC grant to be awarded to members of the School of Law and Criminology, and follows a 2019 €2 million award to Professor Delia Ferri for her project on the right to culture of persons with disabilities.

Dr McMahon said that the grant will help develop a comprehensive analysis of the bioethical implications posed by patents over technologies related to the human body. 

“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 said.

The project aims to bridge the gap between bioethics and patent law, and to incorporate bioethical considerations in European patent decision-making, the academic added.

Dr McMahon paid tribute to the research environment in Maynooth University, and thanked her colleagues.

ERC starting grants are designed to help researchers establish their own independent team, and are viewed as the gold standard for research funding in Europe.

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