Michael J. Fox Sees the Light on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   May 23, 2012   |   10:45AM   |   Washington, DC

This is no surprise for those of us who were paying attention during the stem cell frenzy of the last decade. We remember the irony that in 2006, Michael J. Fox endorsed Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democratic candidate for United States Senate.

Fox told viewers of a TV ad that McCaskill supported stem cell research that could provide a cure for his Parkinson’s disease. McCaskill, a Catholic, is an ardent champion of embryonic stem cell research.

That very same weekend, researchers reported that they had injected rats with Parkinson’s with embryonic stem cells directly into the brain. The symptoms of Parkinson’s were greatly improved. Except the rats had the formations of tumors in their brains that showed signs of developing into cancer if the study had continued.



The Michael J. Fox Foundation is focusing on other ways to treat Parkinson’s because stem cell therapies are “complicated.” From commentary at New Scientist:

For years, actor Michael J. Fox was on the front line of the US’s “stem cell wars”, arguing that embryonic stem cells could cure conditions like his own – Parkinson’s disease.

Last week Fox revealed he now believes that other lines of research hold more promise. “There have been some issues with stem cells, some problems along the way,” Fox told ABC News. “An answer may come from stem cell research but it’s more than likely to come from another area.”

Obstacles include working out how to get transplanted cells to integrate into the brain, and developing “off-the-shelf” cell lines that can be used for any recipient.

Meanwhile, other avenues are speeding towards clinical trials. These include neurotrophic factors – proteins that promote the survival of nerve cells – as well as antibodies that target the alpha-synuclein protein, which may be a cause of the brain damage seen in Parkinson’s.