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NAEVR Highlights NEIís AREDS 2 Study in Capitol Hill Visits on NIH Appropriations and Reauthorization

Legislative Update
October 12, 2006

Dr. Stephen Ryan with Dave Bernstein of Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) staff
Dr. Stephen Ryan with Dr. Dave Bernstein of Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) staff

This week, NAEVR used the election recess as an opportunity to conduct in-depth meetings with key Congressional staff on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) appropriations and reauthorization issues. NAEVRís discussions about the value and trans-Institute nature of National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded research were enhanced by NEIís just-released announcement of the second phase of the Age-Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS), which will determine if a modified combination of vitamins, minerals and fish oil can further slow the progression of vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in the United States for people over age 60. The AREDS 2 study will build upon original study findings, released five years ago, which demonstrated that high-dose antioxidant vitamins and minerals (vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper) reduced the risk of progression to advanced AMD by 25 percent, and the risk of moderate vision loss by 19 percent.

Dr.  Ryan with Jed Perry of Rep. Diana DeGette's (D-CO) staff
Dr. Ryan with Jed Perry of Rep. Diana DeGette's (D-CO) staff

NAEVR Board President Dr. Stephen Ryan thanked staff of key Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for their responsiveness to the vision communityís concerns in the development of the NIH reauthorization bill, the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, which was passed on September 26 by the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. NAEVR was one of 51 organizations that endorsed the bill. Since the next legislative step would be action by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), which has Senate jurisdiction over NIH reauthorization, NAEVR met with HELP Member staff from both sides of the aisle. At this time, it is unclear whether the Senate will take up this legislation in the "lame duck" session, scheduled to begin the week of November 13.

NAEVR's Jim Jorkasky and Dr.  Ryan with Karen Lamontagne of Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) staff
NAEVR's Jim Jorkasky and Dr. Ryan with Karen LaMontagne of Senator Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) staff

The focus of the "lame duck" session will be the Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriations bills that have yet to be finalized, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) spending bill that includes NIH/NEI funding. NAEVR has joined with medical research advocacy colleagues in urging that the full, additional $7 billion for LHHS programs committed to in FY2007 Budget Resolutions in both the House and Senate be contained in the LHHS spending bill. The FY2007 House LHHS spending bill would cut the NEI budget by 0.8 percent or $5.3 million; the Senate bill would increase NEIís budget by $600,000.

Dr.  Ryan with Kate Reinhalter of Rep. Ed Markey's (D-MA) staff
Dr. Ryan with Kate Reinhalter of Rep. Ed Markey's (D-MA) staff

In commenting on his two full days of meetings, Dr. Ryan stated that, "NEIís announcement of AREDS 2 during my visits enabled me to provide a sense of the immediacy of fully funding vision research, especially for AMD and other age-related eye diseases that currently affect more than 35 million Americans." On October 20, NAEVR will conduct a Lobby Day with the Board of Trustees of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

AREDS 2 represents just one of many different approaches to NEIís trans-Institute research into AMD. NEI collaborative research with the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has resulted in the discovery of gene variants in the bodyís inflammatory response associated with increased risk of AMD. NEI has also collaborated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on research into factors that inhibit blood vessel growth in tumors that is now being applied to AMD and diabetic retinopathy.