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Michael J. Fox pitches for Parkinson's research

Michael J. Fox

September 28, 1999
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Marshaling all the publicity a Hollywood star can focus on Capitol Hill, actor Michael J. Fox pleaded the case Tuesday for more funding in a cause he holds dear, research on Parkinson's disease.

Fox was among several speakers who appeared before a session of three United States Senate subcommittees on Tuesday to push for greater funding of research and treatment for Parkinson's.

He's requesting that an additional $75 million of taxpayer money be spent on Parkinson's research. The National Institutes of Health projects that it will spend $81.5 million on Parkinson's research in fiscal year 2000, up from a projected $78 million this year and $65.5 million in 1998.

Federal funds for Parkinson's research grew from $26 million in 1989 to $35.7 million in 1997.

Reflecting on his position in society and his cause, Fox said in his testimony, "What celebrity has given me is the opportunity to raise the visibility of Parkinson's disease and focus more attention on the desperate need for more research dollars. ... I was shocked and frustrated to learn that the amount of federal funding is so meager. Compared with the amount of federal funding going to other diseases, research funding for Parkinson's lags far behind."

'Almost like a moonshot'

The Canadian-born actor, now 38, established an enduring popularity in the 1980s sitcom "Family Ties." He's made a critically lauded return to the small screen with his lead role in the ABC political sitcom "Spin City." Fox revealed nearly a year ago that he has battled the disease since 1991.

He's among several public figures, including U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and country singer Johnny Cash who are known to have been diagnosed with Parkinson's, a degenerative nervous-system disease. It leads to a shortage of a chemical called dopamine, needed to control movement. A tremor is the most commonly recognized effect associated with Parkinson's.

Arguing that a cure clearly is attainable, Fox told reporters Wednesday after his appearance before the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittees that helping Parkinson's sufferers was "almost like a moonshot," and called for a clear time frame to be set as a goal.

"People in this country," Fox said, "said in X amount of years, we're going to put a man on the moon. Within X amount of years, we can with a good degree of certainty say that we can cure Parkinson's, and open the door to Huntington's and similar neurological disorders."

Celebrities on Capitol Hill

With his appearance, Fox becomes the latest entertainment personality to lobby for increased support and funding for government research into health issues. Christopher Reeve has also appeared before Congress -- in February 1996, 10 months after a horse-riding accident left him paralyzed, he argued for more scientific research.

"This isn't some strange kind of exotic thing that's difficult to understand where we have no markers in terms of where to go," Fox told reporters.

"There's a path that's already been started on that will lead very quickly to a cure for Parkinson's," he said, "and by curing Parkinson's, open the way for gigantic breakthroughs in other neurological illnesses. We just need to stop for a second and focus on it and dedicate some consistent funding toward it and it can be done."

Also present at the hearing were Gerald Fischbach, medical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders at the National Institutes of Health; J. William Langston, president of the Parkinson's Institute; Joan Samuelson, president of the Parkinson's Action Network; and Jim Cordy, a Pittsburgh resident who suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Drug may provide new hope for Parkinson's treatment
July 26, 1999
Michael J. Fox reveals he has Parkinson's disease
November 25, 1998
Singer Johnny Cash has Parkinson's disease
November 27, 1997 Health Quick Facts: Parkinson's disease

National Parkinson Foundation
Parkinson's Disease Foundation
Internet Movie Database: Michael J. Fox
U.S. Senate
  •Appropriations Committee
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