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Michael J. Fox is looking past embryonic stem cells in a search for a cure for Parkinson’s

by | May 19, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. Mehmet Oz explains to Michael J. Fox and Oprah Winfrey in 2009 that as a result of induced pluripotent stem cells, there will be a big impact in the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.

In a most revealing interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, actor Michael J. Fox conceded that it is likely that sources other than embryonic stem cells will provide a cure for Parkinson’s, the disease from which he suffers. He did so, even though Sawyer kept trying to find a way to elicit from him a response that embryonic stem cell research was merely in a temporary “cul-de-sac” and even though he has been among the most vocal proponents of embryonic stem cell research. 

Fox sat down with “ABC World News” anchor Diane Sawyer for the Yahoo! News and ABC News “Newsmakers” series to talk about the work of The Michael J. Fox Foundation. He was joined by Deborah W. Brooks, co-founder and executive vice president of the Foundation.

Sawyer tells Fox that her colleagues at Yahoo are “getting a lot of questions about stem cell research and whether this is the promise, this is the future.” (By stem cell research, she means embryonic stem cell research, which he understands.) Fox immediately hedges and qualifies.

“Stem cells are an avenue of research that we’ve pursued and continue to pursue but it’s part of a broad portfolio of things that we look at,” he says. “There have been some issues with stem cells, some problems along the way,” added Fox.

He then takes a slightly different direction.

“It’s not so much that [embryonic stem cell research has] diminished in its prospects for breakthroughs as much as it’s the other avenues of research have grown and multiplied and become as much or more promising. So, an answer may come from stem cell research but it’s more than likely to come from another area,” he said.

Undeterred, Sawyer chimes that “There may be a Secret and we’re just not there; we haven’t found the Secret yet.” Fox shifts gears again, telling Sawyer that he has no regrets for what he had done—that his concern all along had been “research freedom”–that is, “not shutting down avenues of research because of ideological reasons that were countered by the majority’s opinion of whether it was worthwhile doing.”

To which Sawyer adds, “So the whole thing is to be “able to ask the questions and not have anything” foreclosed.

But, of course, the objections to embryonic stem cell were not “ideological,” but ethical, pragmatic, and scientific. Moreover, that public opinion supported embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) reflected one thing and one thing only: the relentless media campaign to hype ESCR in the absence of any proven results, and the determination to ignore all the alternatives which had track records of helping people all over the world.

And, to her credit Brooks tells Sawyer that there is “good news”—there are “ideas and therapeutic approaches” that are “closer to fruition” from which “patients will see benefits from in a potential shorter timeframe.” Brooks is not allowed to finish her sentence before Sawyer is back trying to resurrect ESCR.

Brooks patiently walks her through the myriad of complexities (that we have talked about in this space) which ALWAYS made it highly improbably embryonic stem cells would remedy any medical issue, let alone one as complicated as Parkinson’s. Her emphasis was on other therapies.

Although not discussed on ABC, the “gold standard” of alternatives is adult stem cells and stem cells from cord blood left in an umbilical cord after it is detached from the newborn.

There are also so-called induced pluripotent stem cells. IPSCs are created when genes are added to normal (typically skin) cells to convert them to stem cells that behave very similarly to embryonic stem cells.

In addition there is “direct conversion.” Here a few tissue-specific genes are added to a cell to target the conversion of that cell directly into another tissue type, rather than go through the intermediary step of turning first into a pluripotent stem cell

Fox’s interview is very much worth watching at http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/05/18/michael-j-fox-looks-past-stem-cells-in-search-for-parkinsons-cure.

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Categories: Adult Stem Cells