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Vision Community Testifies at Citizen Witness Hearing on FY2011 NIH/NEI Funding

Legislative Update
May 13, 2010

Neil Bressler, M.D., testified before the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee on behalf of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
Neil Bressler, M.D., testified before the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee on behalf of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
Yesterday, Neil Bressler, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) urged Congress to fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $35 billion and the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $795 million for Fiscal year (FY) 2011 in a Citizen Witness hearing held by the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee, which was chaired by Cong. David Obey (D-WI).

Dr. Bressler, who represented the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) at the hearing, initially reminded the Subcommittee that May is Healthy Vision Month and that, in 2009, Congress passed H. Res. 366 and S. Res. 209, which recognized the 40th anniversary of the NEI and designated 2010-2020 as The Decade of Vision. He reiterated the FY2011 funding request that was previously made by NAEVR in written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee, emphasizing that the 2.5 percent "less-than-inflationary" increase for NEI proposed in the President’s budget was inadequate in light of the vision impairment and eye disease challenges that the Institute will face during this decade.

Dr. Bressler added his unique perspectives from his roles as Chair of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Ophthalmic Devices Panel and as Chair of the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research (DRCR) Network, the NEI-funded collaborative, multi-center network dedicated to facilitating clinical research into diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, and associated conditions. Diabetic retinopathy, or swelling of the retina that affects central vision, is the most common cause of vision loss in working-age Americans. It affects as many as 30 percent of those who have had diabetes for 20 years, impairing their ability to read, drive, work, and distinguish faces.

Demonstrating the value of NEI-funded research, Dr. Bressler cited the recently reported results of a DRCR Network comparative effectiveness trial which confirmed that laser treatment for diabetic macular edema, when combined with injections of the FDA-approved drug Lucentis, is more effective than laser treatment alone, the latter of which has been the standard of care for the past 25 years. "Nearly 50 percent of patients who received this new treatment experience substantial visual improvement, and fewer than 5 percent experience substantial vision loss," said Dr. Bressler. "The investment by Congress to the NIH to make studies such as these possible is an example of the huge successful impact that these funding increases can have on the quality of life and productivity of America."

The value of federal funding for vision research was echoed in testimony provided by the Society for Neuroscience (SFN). Its witness, Michael Goldberg, M.D. (Columbia University), spoke about the importance of the NEI’s extensive study of the genetic basis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in older Americans.

The House’s Citizen Witness hearing came two weeks after its April 28 hearing with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who also testified before the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee on May 5.

Earlier that day, the Alliance for Aging Research held a Congressional Briefing to release The Silver Book: Diabetes, a compendium of the latest data about the incidence and economic impact of the disease. It also contains data about the impact of diabetic eye disease, building upon The Silver Book: Vision Loss, released in September 2007, that the Alliance developed with NAEVR.

Cong. David Obey (D-WI), who chairs both the Appropriations Committee and LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee, presided over the hearing.
Cong. David Obey (D-WI), who chairs both the Appropriations Committee and LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee, presided over the hearing. Many witnesses thanked him for his past dedication to biomedical research funding, as he recently announced his retirement.
Dr. Bressler, who was joined by AAO’s Rebecca Hyder and NAEVR’s James Jorkasky, also visited the offices of Cong. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Dr. Bressler, who was joined by AAO’s Rebecca Hyder and NAEVR’s James Jorkasky, also visited the offices of Cong. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ)