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NEI Concludes the 40th Anniversary Celebration with a Symposium on Translational Research and Vision at which Dr. Collins Recognizes Its Leadership on This Priority NIH Issue

Legislative Update
June 25, 2010

Lore Anne McNicol, Ph.D. (Director of NEI’s Division of Extramural Research) and Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. (NEI Director
Left to right: Lore Anne McNicol, Ph.D. (Director of NEI’s Division of Extramural Research) and Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. (NEI Director)
On June 24-25, the National Eye Institute (NEI) concluded the year-long celebration of its 40th anniversary with a National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus-based educational symposium entitled Translational Research and Vision. In his keynote address, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. recognized the NEI as a leader in translational research, which is one of the NIH’s top five priorities. “The NEI has been central to advances in translational research,” Collins said, adding that “NEI’s vision [for translational research] has allowed us to see farther and better and has enabled the NIH to attain its vision. Most importantly, the best is yet to come.”

Dr. Collins also cited the NEI’s leadership in ocular genetics, noting that it has worked collaboratively with other NIH Institutes and in an inter-disciplinary fashion to elucidate the basis of eye disease and to develop treatments. “Translational research is not easy, especially since it deals with complex biological systems that require an inter-disciplinary approach to science,” he said. As an example, he cited the seemingly unlikely pairing of the NEI and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in developing a diagnostic device for cataracts, which is the clouding of the natural lens. “This collaboration has resulted in a compact fiber optic probe that uses dynamic light scattering to measure the amount of the anti-cataract protein alpha-crystalline. The less light scattering from the protein, the more likely the individual is to develop cataracts,” he said.

Dr. Collins stated that he was pleased to feature an example of NEI’s translational research—the successful human gene therapy to treat the neurodegenerative disease Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA)—in his testimony at April 28 and May 5 hearings of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittees of the House and Senate, respectively. Dr. Collins also lauded the NEI’s use of Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) to determine the increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration from gene variants in the Complement Factor H (CHF) immune pathway. “This was the first demonstration that GWAS is a useful tool to make the connection between gene variants and disease conditions,” he said.

In his welcome comments, NEI Director Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. noted that, as rewarding as it was to look back on the 40 years of accomplishments, he was most proud of the future-oriented focus of the Symposia Series that NEI hosted this past year on topics such as genetics/genomics, optical imaging, neuroscience, stem cell therapies, and the latest in glaucoma research. He reminded attendees that the April 2009 inaugural symposium featured blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer, who was engaged in testing a new device that uses the tongue to get visual signals to the brain, the development of which had been supported by the NEI.

NAEVR sponsored a June 17, 2009, NEI 40th anniversary event on Capitol Hill and worked with Congressional champions to secure passage of S. 209 and H. 366, which recognized the 40th anniversary of the NEI and designated 2010-2020 as The Decade of Vision.

Deborah Carper, Ph.D. (NEI Deputy Director), Emily Chew, M.D. (Deputy Director, NEI Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications) and featured speaker Mark Humayun, M.D., Ph.D. (Doheny Eye Institute/University of Southern California)
Left to right: Deborah Carper, Ph.D. (NEI Deputy Director), Emily Chew, M.D. (Deputy Director, NEI Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications) and featured speaker Mark Humayun, M.D., Ph.D. (Doheny Eye Institute/University of Southern California), who spoke about bioelectronic
devices for ophthalmology
James Wilson, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) spoke about the lessons learned from the past successful human gene therapy trial for LCA which may be applied to other retinal diseases, such as AMD
James Wilson, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) spoke about the lessons learned from the past successful human gene therapy trial for LCA which may be applied to other retinal diseases, such as AMD