Blind World


Macular Degeneration.
Eye specialists to give results of clinical trials.





March 3, 2004.

By LIZ FREEMAN,
epfreeman@naplesnews.com
Naples Daily News.




Calvin Brown is an active retiree at 82 who is putting up a fight to keep his macular degeneration from worsening.


For three months now, the East Naples resident has been a patient at Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida, where his eye specialist started him on photodynamic therapy. The treatment uses an intravenous drug called Visudyne coupled with laser treatment to prevent his "wet" form of macular degeneration from worsening.


The eye specialists with Retina were involved in clinical trials four years ago when the manufacturer of Visudyne was seeking federal approval for general market use of the drug.


Brown's had three treatments so far.


"The first time it didn't seem to make any difference. The second time it didn't make a difference, but this time I can see the outline of a picture on a wall, which I couldn't before," Brown said. "I keep my fingers crossed. I hope it is becoming effective."


For the past year, eye specialists with Retina Consultants have been involved with another clinical trial for a new drug, rhuFab V2, which shows promise in reversing vision loss for people with the wet form of macular degeneration.


The new treatment could have more widespread use among patients with the wet form of the disease, said Dr. Tom Ghuman, one of the eye specialists with the Retina group, which has offices in Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and Port Charlotte.


The biotechnology company, Genentech, has developed rhuFab V2 and is seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The drug is in stage three of clinical trials.


The Retina physicians will announce results they've had so far with clinical trial patients on rhuFab V2 at the eighth annual Eye & Vision Research Symposium being held this week in Southwest Florida.


The Retina specialists sponsor the annual event with Harvard Medical School's Schepens Eye Research Institute, whose scientists will address other research developments involving stem cells. The symposium is free and open to the public.


One symposium will be at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers on Thursday and a second will be held at Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples on Saturday. Registration and a display of low-vision devices will be offered at 9 a.m. with the program starting at 10 a.m.


In prior years, more than 1,000 people have attended each symposium and a similar turnout is expected this year. The Philharmonic can seat 1,300 people.


To register early for either symposium, call 1-866-258-8505 or go online to www.theschepens.org.


Several years ago, the Retina specialists founded the National Ophthalmic Research Institute to work with drug and equipment companies that are developing new treatments and technology. The group's participation in clinical trials enables some Southwest Florida patients to gain access to new therapies in experimental stages prior to FDA approval.


Macular degeneration is a genetic disease and is the leading cause of blindness in people 65 and older. The disease involves damage to the macula, the center of the retina at the back of the eye.


In the "wet" form, blood vessels grow behind the retina and leak, leading to rapid vision loss. In the "dry" form, light sensitive cells in the macula break down and impair vision over time. People with macular degeneration retain peripheral vision but can't see centrally ahead.


Ghuman said rhuFab V2 is promising, and patients such as Brown could switch to that treatment when and if it is approved for market use.


"That has shown improvement in vision," he said.


The drug is injected into the patient's eye and helps shrink the abnormal blood vessel to prevent blood leakage.


"There's no pain associated with it," he said.


The advantage with rhuFab V2 over photodynamic therapy is that leaking blood vessels don't need to be located, he said. That's been a limitation with photodynamic therapy.


"With rhuFab V2 you just have to know there is leakage," he said. "A certain number of patients with the wet form of macular degeneration have ill-defined leakage. A significant number of patients would benefit (with rhuFab V2) who we cannot treat with photodynamic therapy."


Another topic at the symposiums which the Harvard researchers will address will involve growing optic nerves from stem cells, which is showing promise for restoring lost eyesight.


Brown, the local patient, is pleased with Retina Consultants. He connected with the practice late last year after he and his wife, Phyllis, also 82, became year-round residents. Earlier, he had seen many eye specialists in upstate New York after first detecting a problem in his left eye.


"I'm very happy with them," he said, especially if it means he can keep up with his weekly golf game, his bowling and shuffleboard games with his friends.



Copyright 2003-2004 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved.




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