Source: Michael Ellis, mikee04@k-state.edu
Hometown interest: Overland Park
Notes to editor: Michael Ellis is a 2008 graduate of Blue Valley West High School, Overland Park. LEVEL stands for evaLuation of Efficacy and safety in maintaining Visual acuity with sEquential treatment of neovascuLar AMD.
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, tmsharp@k-state.edu

Monday, Nov. 14, 2011

An eye for research: Senior works with physician to study cures for macular degeneration

MANHATTAN -- Michael Ellis has a vision for improving people's lives.

The senior in biology and premedicine from Overland Park has planned on being a doctor since grade school. Sparked by a family member's cancer diagnosis, Ellis hoped to work in oncology. But through an ophthalmology research project, he has his sights set on something new.

Ellis has been working on an intravitreal drug protocol with Dr. David Dyer of Retina Associates P.A. in Johnson County since December 2008. These drugs are commonly used to treat macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema or other diseases of the retina. Macular degeneration is the loss of central vision because of blood vessel growth over the macula. Efficacy of intravitreal drugs for macular degeneration formed the basis of the duo's research.

The one-year retrospective chart review dealt with a drug combination known as induction maintenance therapy for treatment of the wet form of age-related macular degeneration. Ellis and Dyer focused on two drugs, Lucentis and Macugen. Both drugs are effective in blocking vascular endothelial growth factor, which is the main stimulus for growth of new blood vessels that are linked to bleeding and vision loss in age-related macular degeneration. Each is geared toward specific types of treatment. Macugen is used for maintenance therapy and Lucentis is used for induction therapy. In a typical treatment, Lucentis would be used to block the effects of all types of vascular endothelial growth factor A, or VEGF_A, while Macugen blocks only one type of the VEGF_A, VEGF-165.

Across the nation, a LEVEL study was conducted by more than 500 practices focusing on one to three induction injections and switching to Macugen for maintenance. Ellis and Dyer's study focused on a different approach, using Lucentis until the bleeding had ceased in the retina and then switching to Macugen therapy to see if the results differed. They are in the process of submitting their article to the British Journal of Ophthalmology, and once published the results will be made public.

Though more than 120 miles separate Manhattan and Kansas City, Ellis was actively engaged in the research process. During winter and summer breaks, he conducted chart reviews from the practice's offices. While at school, Ellis prepared the data for a scientific poster and paper.

While the one-year study has concluded, Ellis and Dyer's efforts have continued. Results have also been gathered on a two-year study focusing on the efficacy and the safety of the treatment protocol.

"Safety is a big concern with the three drugs that are used for treating macular degeneration and it has been seen in clinical trials that Macugen may be a safer drug," Ellis said. "Lucentis is definitely a more potent drug in that it is nonselective and will block all of the vascular endothelial growth factor in the retina."

Publications on additional protocols will follow later.

Ellis will graduate in May 2012 and attend medical school in the fall. He presented the results of the comprehensive study of all protocols in 2010 at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"It was very beneficial for me to network with other retina specialists from around the U.S. and clinical researchers from around the world," Ellis said. "As an undergraduate student, there weren't too many of us around at that conference. It was pretty cool."

Meanwhile, Ellis' enduring interest in helping others has been transformed by his experiences in ophthalmology.

"I've seen what type of impact these doctors have on people," Ellis said. "People come in and cannot see, and they leave and they can see. It helps them feel better about themselves."