Aug. 28, 2012 – Mark Michels, M.D., recalls exactly when he became captivated with the retina, the delicate light-capturing tissue so critical to one’s vision.
He was a young ophthalmology resident observing one of his professors with utter fascination.
“The whole OR is dark and the only light is the light glowing out of the eye,” Michels recalled. “He is doing this amazing procedure with the retina —that was it for me.”
Since then, the 1985 UF College of Medicine graduate has built a successful three-physician ophthalmology practice, with offices in Palm Beach Gardens and Stuart, that focuses on diseases and surgery of the retina, vitreous and macula.
Additionally, Michels continues to foster his love for research, which he discovered as a young medical student working with William Woodson Dawson, M.S., Ph.D., a faculty member in the college’s department of ophthalmology and a longtime researcher of blinding diseases.
His practice has been involved in several national clinical trials, including the ground-breaking Lucentis trial, which led to a new treatment for age-related macular degeneration. In fact, Michels co-authored an article about the study that was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in October 2006. The article was selected as the sixth most important medical publication of 2006.
“It was a game changer,” he said of the Lucentis trial. “We can now treat with tremendous success the most devastating and leading cause of blindness in the over-65 age group.”
In 2009, Michels strengthened his scientific pursuits and founded the Retina Care Research Institute of Florida Inc., an organization dedicated to independent medical research on eye conditions, particularly retinal diseases. The institute was established with a donation from a grateful patient, which allowed for the purchase of an optical coherence tomography machine that provides 3-D images of the macular anatomy.
“It’s really exciting to think that our work may impact patients I may never know,” he said.
Growing up in Clearwater, Michels was accepted into UF’s junior honors medical program and graduated from the UF College of Medicine with honors for research and the faculty award for research.
“UF is the best institution of higher learning I’ve attended so far — faculty are humble, no attitude,” he said. “Florida professors were there because they were passionate about medicine.”
He completed his ophthalmology residency at Emory University in Atlanta, then he was chosen for a two-year vitreo-retinal diseases and surgery fellowship at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute, where he received the clinical fellow research award.
Michels credits UF with igniting his love of research and he ultimately hopes to pass that love along, using his institute to encourage current premedical or medical students to pursue retinal research.
“I’d like to spend more time using the research institute to help spark the interest that I was blessed with,” he said.