Friday, November 03, 2006

Anderson Cooper interview with Michael Fox

though Cooper did ask Fox some pointed questions, he didn't really dig deeper into Fox's responses to those questions. I must say, Cooper gave the session a good try, but he really missed the opportunity to hone in on Fox's portrayal of the "science" behind the "hope" of potential cures for many diseases using embryonic stem cells. I was disappointed. Fox did make an excellent point when he noted President George W. Bush gave a "time" limit for the use of embryonic stem cells already in existence. What he was suggesting - if you hold life sacrosanct, how can you permit the destruction of any number of embryonic stem cells for research...

Very good point.

Interview With Michael J. Fox

Aired November 2, 2006 - 22:00 ET


COOPER: Well, that was Republican Senator Jim Talent of Missouri, talking about the commercial Michael J. Fox made, endorsing his opponent Claire McCaskill.

Now, McCaskill supports a ballot that -- a ballot measure that would legalize embryonic stem cell research in Missouri. Senator Talent, though, and many others argue it would allow human cloning. His concern is part the slippery slope in this debate, specifically that this is all leading to cloning of people.

The science is complicated. So are the semantics. The goal of therapeutic cloning, the research that Michael J. Fox is pushing for, is not to make babies. It's to make stem cells. But critics worry that the technology could be misused. They also worry, the benefits of these microscopic cells are being oversold.


COOPER: There is also those who have said, look, that -- that you are giving false hope to people, that you're implying that a -- a cure is just around the corner, if only they will cast...


FOX: I never said that.

But, at the same time, too, this qualification of hope is -- is very unsettling. It's hope -- you know, hope is what this country is about.

Hope -- hope -- and it's an informed hope. It's a hope based on the opinions of most scientists. I won't say all scientists, because there may be one or two out there. But we agree that adult stem cell research is worthwhile and viable and may yield results.

We agree that there no should be no egg farming, that there should be -- there should be no reproductive human cloning. We agree that, to the extent that some of these hundreds of thousand of cells that are routinely being destroyed can be adopted, that's great. You know, we support that program, snowflake babies. We agree on everything.

We're just saying, you know, you're saying, we can have a seat belt, and we would also like an air bag, because the technology exists, so why should we stop short of a full expression of our hope for cures and following the advice of scientists that the other may yield results as well?

When people throw out words like cloning, they may have images of recreating human beings, like 10 of you and five of me, or whatever. It's not that at all. It's being able to create cells that can be used specific to patients for drug screening, for research.

But there is no life created. And there is no potential for life there. So, it's advanced science, but there are such stringent ethical guidelines in place, that it will never express itself in the way that they are concerned.


COOPER: And, as Michael acknowledged later, good and honest people disagree on this issue.

As we said, the science at the heart of this debate is complicated for -- for all of us.

360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, probably smarter than -- certainly, than me, he's a neurosurgeon, CNN senior medical correspondent. He joins me now from Atlanta.

Sanjay, if we're not talking about cloning, as in recreating human beings, what -- what kind of cloning is involved in embryonic stem cell?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you sort of hit on it a little bit earlier.

You're talking about therapeutic cloning here, you know, creating cells specifically for the purpose of treating things, treating disease processes, for example.

So, you are talking about actually creating what is known as blastocyst, which is a cluster of cells, and then extracting some of those cells that are an exact DNA match of the person you're trying to treat, allowing those cells to grow into whatever, grow into a pancreas, grow into a liver, whatever -- obviously, this hasn't been done yet; that is the hope -- and, then, giving those cells back to the person as perfect DNA match.

There is no risk of rejection. This is sort of the heart of therapeutic cloning. That is the promise of stem cells. And that is what a lot of people are talking about.

It is not, subsequently, taking that cluster of cells, implanting it into a woman's uterus, and allowing it to grow into a -- into a human being.

COOPER: Well, some people -- obviously, a lot of people have problems with the idea of cloning in any form. Do we have to have cloning if there is embryonic stem cell implantation? GUPTA: No, you don't have to have cloning to do that.

You know, when you talk about these embryonic stem cells, you could just have some of these blank cells, and sort of -- sort of prod them to grow into certain clusters of cells, liver cells, or pancreatic cells, and then inject them into a person who might be ill from diabetes or liver failure.

The -- the disadvantage of that is that, sometimes, they would have to take anti-rejection drugs, much in the same way that they would take anti-rejection drugs from an organ transplant. So, it wouldn't be -- it wouldn't be a DNA match. So, you would have some disadvantages there.

But you don't need even the therapeutic cloning in order to actually treat some of these disease processes.

COOPER: Well, how would stem cells actually help someone, or could potentially help someone, with Parkinson's, like Michael J. Fox?

GUPTA: Well, it's really interesting, Anderson.

If you look at the exact process that causes Parkinson's, it's the lack of dopamine in the brain. That's a specific neurotransmitter. It's produced in a specific area of the brain. For whatever reason -- we're not exactly sure why -- certain people who develop Parkinson's, that part of the brain isn't working properly.

The idea is, you could take some of these embryonic stem cells, coax them into becoming dopamine-forming cells, and literally inject them into appropriate parts of the brain, appropriate areas of the brain, and they, subsequently, take over, start making that dopamine, and, as a result, the symptoms of Parkinson's, the -- the hope is, would gradually disappear.

This obviously has not been done on humans yet, but that is the hope. The -- the good thing about Parkinson's, in particular, it's a discrete area of the brain that you would be treating, which is why scientists are so optimistic that it might actually work.

COOPER: All right.

We are going to talk more to Sanjay coming up, and also to an opponent of this, who says the science simply isn't there yet.

When we found out that Michael J. Fox would sit down for tonight's interview, we asked to you e-mail us questions to ask him. We got a huge response. We're going to have some of his answers to your questions.

And we will also have more from Dr. Gupta coming up about the state-of-the-art in stem cell research, where the hope is, what are the greatest concerns -- all that and more when our special edition of 360 conditions...



COOPER: Well, that was Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate.

And what he said explains a lot about why this issue can be so confusing. There are different types of stem cells. And keeping them straight isn't always easy. The difference between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells is a central and very emotional part of this debate.

I talked to Michael J. Fox about those differences. And I also asked him some of your questions. That when we pick up the interview.


COOPER: What is it like putting yourself out there like this? I mean, one of the worst things you can do for Parkinson's is put yourself under stress. And, I mean, you are putting yourself under enormous -- even right now.

FOX: Well, it's an opportunity. It's an opportunity to help and to further this conversation.

And it's -- like I said, that's bigger than me. And I'm uniquely positioned to lend my face to this and my voice to it. And, so, I'm willing to do that. And I think it certainly is exacerbating my symptoms. But I don't think it's accelerating the disease, in that sense.

COOPER: We -- we asked viewers to send in some e-mails, some questions. We got hundreds of responses. I just want to ask you a couple of the questions that some of the viewers wanted to know about.

Some of them are tough.

Jacob in -- in Dallas, Texas, asked: "Why should an innocent unborn child, so that tests and experiments may be run, in an effort to possibly save others? How do we value one life over another?"

FOX: There is a -- there is something that is in place now, which is the destruction of thousands of these cells. It's happening. And it has been happening for 20 years.

COOPER: These cells are being thrown out?

FOX: They're being thrown out. They're being wasted, purely wasted.

So, and, even with programs like adoption, it's not going to put a dent in it. They are going to be destroyed. And they continue to be destroyed. So, our position.

And we -- and, again, anybody who has prayed on this, or thought on it, or has deep feeling about it, I so respect that. And I'm not out to change anyone's mind. I'm really not.

I'm out to motivate the 70 percent that polls tell us are in favor of this research, that, if they are, they need to make a decision now to move forward.

But to go back to his point, these cells are going to be destroyed. So, to us, and to me, it's a pro-life position to use them to save people that are alive today, and the child that is going to be born with juvenile diabetes, and the kid who is going to, you know, go surfing, and get a spinal cord injury, and not be able to walk, that that is -- that that is a pro-life position.

And, again, full respect to those who differ or have differing opinions, but do know that we don't take this lightly. And we fully look at it, and searched our hearts, and we think it's the right thing to do.

COOPER: Another question from a viewer.

Theresa in Miami, Florida, says: "I understand that great progress has been made and many cures have been found for the research of adult stem cells, where the donor is unharmed. I also understand that many religious groups do not oppose this kind of stem cell research, but do oppose the use of embryos for this purpose. Are you aware of the distinction? And, if so, why do you think that the American public is being led to believe that there's no successful stem cell research going on in this country?"

FOX: You know, we -- as I said, we support adult stem cell research. It is -- it is limited, again, because the cells are differentiated. They already know what they are. So, you can only -- you use them in a limited way. And, in fact...

COOPER: Whereas the embryonic cells can be used potentially...


FOX: They can be anything. They -- so you -- they're much more versatile.

And that's why scientists say they hold more promise for a cure. So, we don't really know, you know, the full potential of embryonic stem cells.

FOX: But informed -- as I said, informed hope is out there, because scientists have been so supportive of it and so expressed its promise.

COOPER: The president has, several times, taken credit, saying: My administration is the first administration to fund this kind of...

FOX: It's the first one that had the opportunity to. It's the first one that had the opportunity to.

So, you know, and, by limiting the lines to what he said, I think 60 -- but it really turned out to be in the area of 20, if not less.

COOPER: Right. He said -- he said you could do research on embryonic stem cells that existed up to a certain date.

FOX: A certain time.

COOPER: Right.

FOX: Which, again, is interesting, when you talk about -- if your position is that that's life, and it's sacrosanct, how do you draw -- how do you say, at this time, on this day, anything before that can be used; anything after that can't be used?

That's another argument.

But the cell lines that we got, we're -- you know, working with them now is like working with Windows 95 in this world, in this computer world. It's just -- they are old. They are polluted by mouse feeder cells. They're -- they just aren't as viable.

So, it's hard to get a full -- like I said, a full appreciation for what's possible. But -- and the other thing about adult stem cells is, it was put to me by somebody -- in fact, there's an interesting way to look at it.

They're -- like most adults, they are cranky. They know who they are. They know what they do. They don't want to do anything else.


FOX: If you get them to do something else, they are cranky about doing it. And, then, when you want them to change, they are cranky about that. And, then, it's hard to get them to turn around and do something else.

I mean, they're -- they can be productive. But it's a very different thing from the potential and the versatility of embryonic stem cells.


COOPER: Well, we will have a very different view of the science and the ethics of stem cells coming up -- and, also, next, Michael J. Fox on being a father of four kids with a disease that sometimes leave him a spectator inside his own body.


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