Michael J. Fox: Order of Canada is 'highest honour'
Actor and philanthropist Michael J. Fox says it's a great honour to be recognized with an investment into the Order of Canada.
"To be thought of and recognized as distinctly Canadian is just the highest honour," Fox told CTV's Canada AM Friday from Ottawa, before he was invested by Governor General David Johnston.
At a ceremony on Friday, Fox was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, along with 13 others, to recognize his service to Canada or humanity at large. Another 29 became Members of the Order of Canada.
Fox is being honoured for his dedication to Parkinson's disease research. Diagnosed with the progressive brain disease in the early 1990s, Fox has focused his creative energies over the last decade on funding research into the disease which causes tremors and spastic movements.
His Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is now the largest non-profit funder of Parkinson's research. The Canadian branch of the foundation recently gained charitable status, ensuring that Canadian medical researchers can receive the funding they need to work towards the goal of finding a cure.
Fox was born in Edmonton and grew up in Chilliwack and Burnaby, B.C. as well as North Bay, Ont. He says he was fed a diet of hockey, listening to Robbie Robertson and Neil Young and reading Farley Mowat and W.O. Mitchell.
"Being Canadian is intrinsic to who I am," Fox said.
After mostly stepping away from acting after his diagnosis, Fox has spent most of the last 10 years raising funds for better Parkinson's treatments.
"Over the last 10 years, we've put about $225 million into Parkinson's research," he said.
That research is happening on a variety of different levels, Fox said, with some scientists looking at using stem cells to repair the damage caused by the disease, and others looking at medications.
"But we're actually more pressingly working on trying to find a biomarker to identify the disease before symptoms are evident, so that we can target drugs or the development of a cure much quicker. So that's a big thing on our agenda," he said.
A biomarker could be used as a signal of the disease, much like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are biomarkers for heart disease. Identifying such biomarkers could help spot people at risk for Parkinson's and perhaps allow for interventions, if they become available.
Fox said the research road has been rocky.
"What I've learned first and foremost is that biology is hard. Science is hard," Fox said. "And it seems for every 10 steps, there's another step you take backwards. But you hope that it all adds up to giant leap forward."
But Fox also is hopeful that big advances will be made.
"We're going to unlock one of these things. Whether it's figuring out how to re-grow cells in the brain, or how to identify the disease before symptoms are resistant, or to discover new genes or groups who are likely to develop the disease – these breakthroughs could be huge.
"We could be a year away; we could be 10 years away; we could be 20 years away. But if you ever wake up in the morning and wonder who's pursuing this, we are. And we're pursuing it hard, and with complete dedication and with purity of motive."