CBS's Stem Cell Expert: Doctor Who Yearned to Shape Obama's Health Policy

Four days after Sanjay Gupta, in the wake of Tom Daschle's withdrawal as HHS Secretary-designate, decided to turn down the Obama administration's offer to become Surgeon General, CBS went to the CNN medical correspondent for expert analysis on the benefits of Obama's decision to allow federal funding of research on embryonic stem cells. (Monday afternoon following Obama's announcement, CNN refrained from putting Gupta on the air. Wolf Blitzer, however, brought him aboard the 6 PM EDT hour of The Situation Room to expound on what Gupta described as the “enthusiasm” and “lot of promise” offered by the administration's reversal of the Bush policy.)

CBS anchor Katie Couric fretted Obama's decision didn't do enough. Referring to a law which “prohibits the creation of embryos simply for the purpose of using their stem cells,” Couric worried: “If the ban against using tax dollars for this is not lifted, will it hinder progress?” Gupta assured her there are “plenty of embryos” available. Next, Couric cited how “the only FDA-approved clinical trial for using stem cells involved spinal cord injuries” and wondered: “What other conditions or diseases show the most potential to respond to this kind of therapy?”

Gupta, who last Thursday announced his decision to not accept the position, yearned to guide Obama's health policy. The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Howard Kurtz reported on Friday that a source “close” to Gupta “said Gupta was very disheartened by Daschle's fate and fearful he was not going to get a prominent role in the health-care reform process.” Gupta “waved aside questions about what happened to Daschle” but, the Post noted, “his answers hinted at his expectation that helping Daschle to revamp the nation's health-care system had been part of his discussions with the White House. 'I had a lot of conversations with the White House folks,' he said. 'I think there was a real melding there.'”
    
The Couric-Gupta segment on the Monday, March 9 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is also a CBS News contributor. Sanjay, as we heard Chip [Reid] say, Congress passed legislation in 1996 that prohibits the creation of embryos simply for the purpose of using their stem cells. If the ban against using tax dollars for this is not lifted, will it hinder progress?

SANJAY GUPTA: It's a good question, Katie. I don't think it will necessarily hinder progress, mainly because there's several different sources of these stem cell lines. The federally funded stem cell lines, as you've talked about. Also the private sector has been funding stem cell lines for some me, so they're going to be added to the mix. But I think most importantly to your point, a lot of fertility clinics have embryos that would otherwise be discarded that might be sources of stem cell lines as well so if you add those up, I think you're going to have plenty of embryos for potential stem cell lines.

COURIC: As we heard, the only FDA-approved clinical trial for using stem cells involved spinal cord injuries. What other conditions or diseases show the most potential to respond to this kind of therapy?

GUPTA: When I think, when you think about these sorts of diseases, you have to think about this idea that these stem cells are going to go in there and fix a discrete problem. So problems like diabetes, for example, where the pancreas is not making enough insulin. Problems like Parkinson's disease where you're simply not making enough dopamine in the brain. Those are the types of diseases, those discrete diseases. that are probably going to be the most responsive. Same thing with spinal court injury. My guess is -- a lot of people talk about Alzehimer's disease -- but because it is so global in the brain, it might be less responsive. We'll know more about that in years to come certainly, Katie.

COURIC: Alright. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Sanjay, thank you.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center