Friday, November 03, 2006

Anderson Cooper Interview with Michael Fox and opponent of embryonic stem cell research

Note wherein Fox's comments about adult stem cells not being as good as embryonic stem cells are refuted as are Gupta's remarks. By David Prentice


Interview With Michael J. Fox

Aired November 2, 2006 - 22:00 ET


COOPER: Adult stem cells, are they just as good as embryonic stem cells?

GUPTA: It's fair question. I think most scientists, most in the scientific community would say no. They can be very good.

Let me just frame it to you like this. Adult stem cells exist in the body for a reason. The body is designed to basically have some of these adult stem cells around in case we have injuries, in case there are damaged cells. They come in to try and repair some of those damaged cells.

When we're talking about embryonic stem cells, we're talking about totally blank cells that can be sort of programmed to do anything, to not just repair damaged cells, necessarily, but to really do anything. And that's really the simplest way I can think of describing to you the difference. Embryonic stem cells have a lot more promise, have a lot more potential. It's not to be belittle or undermine the potential of adult stem cells, but they're just not the same thing.

COOPER: We're going to talk to someone who disagrees with that. Coming up, let's get another perspective. Sanjay, thank you.

Another scientific view next. We're going to hear from a researcher who says embryonic stem cells should be off-limits both for scientific and also for moral reasons. But a break first. Stay tuned.



FOX: Vote for Jim Webb for U.S. Senate.


COOPER: That was Michael J. Fox campaigning tonight for Virginia Democrat Jim Webb. There is no denying the emotional impact of the case that he's making, but many thoughtful people who disagree with them. Some say the science simply isn't there. Some have moral or religious differences.

Joining me now is David Prentice. He's a senior fellow of life sciences at the Family Research Council. David, thanks for being with us.


COOPER: You support adult stem cell research, numerous kinds of research, but not embryonic stem cell research. Why?

PRENTICE: Well, there are two basic problems with the embryonic and associated cloning. No. 1 is the ethical problem that most people seem to be aware of, that you do have to destroy an embryo or as cloning, as has been proposed in Amendment Two in Missouri, create and then destroy an embryo.

Many people around the country have a significant ethical concern with that. Different polls show different numbers, but actually, it can range anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of people that are opposed to destroying embryos for the research.

The other problem, though, is the scientific point. The flexibility that's been described for embryonic stem cells is actually a hindrance to making them work. They tend to be a wild, uncontrolled cell that tends to grow out of control and make anything and everything.

In fact, about the time these ads started floating around, there was a report where they tried to treat Parkinson's rats with human embryonic stem cells. They saw some improvement in the rats. But they had to end the experiment. And what they found was that all the rats were showing tumor formation.

The converse of that, adult stem cells. You know, we used to think that adult stem cells were very limited, can only make the tissue from which they were from. What we're finding over the last few years is that's just not the case. We've sort of had a narrow focus here, a different paradigm or dogma.

What we're seeing is the adult stem cells in some cases are just as flexible as embryonic. But two days ago a group in the U.K. taking umbilical cord blood stem cells and turned it into chunks of liver.

COOPER: Let me ask you. Two, really, topics to talk about. On the destruction of embryos, which is clearly a major sticking point to many people who oppose this kind of research, Michael J. Fox and others say, "Well, look, these embryos are being destroyed and being thrown out in fertility clinics across the country." If you support in vitro fertilization, these embryos are just being tossed out anyway.

PRENTICE: Well, that whole topic about how we create embryos in sort of an industry does need to be addressed, but let's address the actual numbers. We hear that there are thousands upon thousands being thrown away daily. That's just not the truth.

The Rand Corporation did a survey. There are 400,000 embryos in freezers in fertility clinics around the country, but the vast, vast majority, the parents want to keep them. They don't want them thrown away.

There are only a few thousand available for this research. And we've already heard many scientists say that's just not enough. And so you're back to actually creating embryos by fertilization or cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer, to use these embryos for the research. And many people have significant concerns with that.

COOPER: But those 400,000 are not going to be utilized, by and large.

PRENTICE: Actually, most of those will be. The parents want them kept for their own family building. Some can be adopted, as Mr. Fox discussed, but the vast majority are being kept. There are only a few thousand available. It's just not going to be enough for what we keep hearing is this push in embryonic stem cell research.

COOPER: On the research, on stem cells, there are a lot of scientists who say, look, we need to research all of these: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells.

Douglas Melton, who's a co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said, and I quote, "There are camps for adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells but these camps only exist in the political arena. There's no disagreement among scientists over the need to aggressively pursue both in order to solve important medical problems."

PRENTICE: Well, I guess I disagree with his characterization. And it's not most scientists one side or the other. You could probably divide it pretty equally in terms of what seems to be the most promising.

Bottom line is with the adult stem cells we're already seeing application in patients for lots of different diseases. Maybe not cures at this point but patients, thousand of patients, improved. And if we're being pragmatic about resources, especially taxpayer dollars, then we ought to be focusing on adult stem cells that are going to bring those treatments to patients the fastest.

COOPER: There are those again, though, who say, "Look, the embryonic stem cells, they're potent. They can develop into virtually every type of cell in the human body." And you have said that can be a negative. You know, the supporters say the research just hasn't been done and there's a lot of potential there. And why not -- why not make a step toward that hope?

PRENTICE: Well, 25 years of research may or may not be enough with mouse embryonic and then human. That pure potency can be a problem that flexibility to change into different tissues.

As I mentioned before, we're now finding that there are some adult stem cells that have nearly the same flexibility as the embryonic but without that tendency to form tumors, without the problem of forming misplaced tissue.

You know, this characterization of adult stem cells as limited just doesn't seem to be true with all the published science that's coming out over the last few years.
And what we're finding is those are the cells that are a maintenance crew. They do take care of normal war and tear. But they can form these other tissues and can repair damage from disease and injury.

COOPER: As we said, there are good and honest people on both sides of this debate who disagree. David Prentice, we appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

PRENTICE: Thank you.

No comments: