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Michel Michaelides Profile

A bright future for retinal disease, predicts Clinica London ophthalmologist Michel Michaelides

Consultant ophthalmologist, Michel Michaelides, always knew that he wanted a career in medicine – despite not coming from a family of doctors.

“From my early school days I felt a fascination for the human body – I simply thought that it was the most interesting thing we possessed!

“Then afterwards it was the science that attracted me; and latterly it was more about human interaction, I like the face to face contact with patients – the clinical work – as well as carrying out the procedures which ophthalmology offers.”

Born to Greek-Cypriot parents on New Year’s Day 1973, Michel spent his early years in the Sutton Coldfield district of Birmingham, before moving to Hertfordshire at the age of four. A trained accountant, his father also worked in the wine trade and as a restaurateur.

“Ophthalmology is super-specialised and within this area, throughout my training, I have enjoyed honing down my knowledge and expertise to the back of the eye – the retina – it is now my niche area.

“In my opinion, this is how modern medicine should be practiced. Because the rate of technological advance is so tremendous, it is impossible to know everything about even a few things …  even I have to admit to sometimes struggling to keep up with all the developments in the world of inherited retinal disease.”

In the normal course of events, no one sees the retina, so what attracted Michel to specialise in this “hidden” part of the eye?

“Although there are a lot of fantastic optometrists, examining the retina takes a little bit more experience, practice and skill to do. When you start out as a trainee, you fall in love with the front of the eye – you want to specialise in the cornea, or cataracts …why? because we can see them – they are on show. It’s only later – with more experience – when we can see the retina with all its nuances and, now with the ability to examine it properly, we realise that it is also amazing.

“The retina is the window to the brain. It is the only accessible way to see the brain and there is a lot of work being done into what it can show us about various neurological degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.”

As a senior clinical lecturer at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital for the last three years, Michel Michaelides also teaches across the whole spectrum of medical students and scientists including the ophthalmologists of the future. Teaching falls within his research role where he carries the title of principal investigator on several research studies. In addition to working with his own team of researchers, he is also part of a larger group (under the leadership of Prof Robin Ali) which is involved in developing gene and stem cell therapies for retinal diseases.

Speaking of the exciting and rapid advances in this area, Michel Michaelides, says that as recently as ten years ago this progress would have been thought of as science fiction.

What has changed in the last ten years?

“I think that progress in science is generally incremental; although there have been a few quantum leaps like the Human Genome Project (the international research collaboration into human DNA), which has also taken us forward massively.

“Advances in imaging of the eye and retina specifically have been transformational – like optical coherence tomography, and also adaptive optics imaging which allows us to see individual cells of the retina – it is truly jaw-dropping. Today we are able to see the retina with such clarity that we have never achieved before (the same clarity as could only previously be obtained from donated samples at a post-mortem examination). These devices will continue to take us forward, not only in  diagnostics, but also in planning for clinical trials in terms of knowing the best way of running the trials in terms of efficacy and also finding the participants who are most likely to benefit.

The future carries a definite message of optimism.”

Michel also speaks about bringing the findings of his cutting edge research trials into his clinics and how they also provide a greater insight into the potential limitations of some of the data produced. “The rate of progress is so rapid that unless you are intimately involved in that progress you won’t have the depth and breadth of knowledge to apply these developments at the earliest time point into your clinical practice for the benefit of patients.

Alongside his research and clinical work, Michel Michaelides now also sees patients at Clinica London, the private eye clinic at 140 Harley Street.

“I’ve known Jane Olver (Clinica founder) for around eight years. I had the pleasure of being one of her trainees and we stayed in touch. She is a super-clinician and surgeon so I didn’t hesitate when she suggested I come and visit Clinica London. It is immaculate – truly pristine – and a beautiful environment both to work in and for the patients. Jane’s faultless attention to detail can be seen everywhere.”

Michel has more than one hundred peer-reviewed publications and has written many books on retinal disease. In addition, he is responsible for the research content of the Retinitis Pigmentosa Fighting Blindness website www.rpfightingblindness.org.uk. With more than 4 million hits a year, this website, which is presented in a suitable format for the visually impaired, is the principal source of information for UK patients with all types of inherited retinal disease.

He is also a member of the highly regarded Macula Society – arguably one of the most prestigious groups of retinal experts in the world.

Michel’s busy professional life leaves little time for hobbies. He was forced to give up playing football after two ruptured ligament injuries; but still enjoys swimming.  However, nowadays he prefers to spend any precious free time with his family of two little boys – Zachary (6) and Leo (4) –and his wife (an interventional radiologist at King’s College Hospital) at their home in Dulwich, South London.

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