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ARVO’s Request for an NIH/NEI Funding Increase Bolstered by
Young Investigators

From left, Young Investigators engaged in the ARVO Advocacy Day included: Akrit Sodhi, M.D., Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University/Wilmer Eye Institute); Diana Lee (Georgetown University); Jenny Myung, O.D. (Salus University College of Optometry); Cristos Ifantides, M.D. (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai); Rachel Wozniak, M.D., Ph.D.  (University of Rochester/Flaum Eye Institute); Ahmara Gibbons Ross, M.D., Ph.D.  (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center); Cindy Park-Windhol, Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School/Schepens Eye Research Institute), and Nicole Ross, O.D. (New England College of Optometry)
From left, Young Investigators engaged in the ARVO Advocacy Day included: Akrit Sodhi, M.D., Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University/Wilmer Eye Institute); Diana Lee (Georgetown University); Jenny Myung, O.D. (Salus University College of Optometry); Cristos Ifantides, M.D. (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai); Rachel Wozniak, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Rochester/Flaum Eye Institute); Ahmara Gibbons Ross, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center); Cindy Park-Windhol, Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School/Schepens Eye Research Institute), and Nicole Ross, O.D. (New England College of Optometry)
In a February 6 Advocacy Day conducted by ARVO and NAEVR, members of ARVO’s Annual Meeting Program Committee (AMPC) were joined by a group of young investigators in requesting Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Eye Institute (NEI). As in past years, ARVO was among the first organizations to speak with Congressional staff about the need for NIH funding of at least $32 billion (B) and NEI funding of $730 million (M) to maintain the momentum of research. The visits were also timely in that the President’s FY2016 budget request had just issued to Congress on February 2, and staff were engaged in reviewing it and seeking feedback from research advocates-especially staff of members of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate, with jurisdiction over NIH funding. [See box below]

The 13 ARVO AMPC members—including ARVO Executive Vice President Craig Crosson, Ph.D. (Medical University of South Carolina) and international advocates Caterina Gagliano, M.D., Ph.D. (Neurovisual Science Technology, Catania, Italy) and Qingjiong Zhang, M.D., Ph.D. (Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, China)—and the eight young investigators visited 40 Congressional offices with three important advocacy tools that supplemented the legislative request:

  • A dramatic graphic that showed how the FY2015 NEI appropriated funding level of $684 M is still down $18 M from the FY2012 pre-sequester funding level, which translates into 45 fewer grants not funded by NEI-any one of which may hold the promise to save sight and restore vision.

  • A list of successfully commercialized products resulting from NEI-funded investigator-initiated research and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants that demonstrates the return on the nation’s investment in vision research.

  • A “Federal Funding for Vision Research is Vital” document that included the latest data about the incidence and cost of eye disease—the latter estimated at $145 B annually in a June 2014 Prevent Blindness study—and the results of AEVR’s September 2014 study about the public’s attitudes about vision loss, specifically that a majority of Americans across racial and ethnic lines describe losing their vision as having the greatest impact on their daily lives.
The young investigator delegation, which reflected clinicians, clinician scientists, and basic researchers dealing with a wide range of eye diseases, added greatly to ARVO’s message, stressing the impact that the combination of cuts, flat funding, and lack of an inflationary increase at the NEI has had on their training and career paths. “In many cases, the young investigators were speaking to staff members who are their contemporaries, so their message resonated with these individuals who may be examining their own career paths,” observed NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky, who joined each young investigator for at least one visit.

The NAEVR and AEVR Alliances have a focus on young investigators in their 2015 activities. In mid-2015, the Alliances will begin recruiting individuals to participate in a “Young Vision Investigator Day” on Capitol Hill, to be held on October 7-8 with a series of educational and advocacy events.

NAEVR’s FY2016 Request: NIH Funding of at Least $32 B, NEI of $730 M

NAEVR’s request for the NIH/NEI reflects a five percent increase over FY2015, including modest growth and biomedical inflation (2.4 percent), especially since the NIH and NEI have lost 22 and 25 percent, respectively, of purchasing power since FY2003. For the NEI, the increase would also restore the $18 M that it is still down from the FY2012 pre-sequester funding level. To enable these increases, NAEVR requests that NIH/NEI be waived from sequester cuts and Budget Control Act spending caps.

The President’s budget has requested NIH funding of $31.3 B and NEI funding of $695.2 M. Although NAEVR commended the President for proposing a budget that increased nondefense discretionary spending to enable an NIH/NEI increase, the Alliance is calling upon Congress to improve on the President’s proposal.

Ahmara Gibbons Ross, M.D., Ph.D., left (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), and Jenny Myung, O.D., right (Salus University College of Optometry) with Brenden Chainey from the office of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), a House LHHS appropriator
Ahmara Gibbons Ross, M.D., Ph.D., left (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), and Jenny Myung, O.D., right (Salus University College of Optometry) with Brenden Chainey from the office of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), a House
LHHS appropriator
From left: Denzel Singletary, office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) with Cristos Ifantides, 
M.D. (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) and Rachel Wozniak, M.D., Ph.D.  (University of Rochester/Flaum Eye Institute)
From left: Denzel Singletary, office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) with Cristos Ifantides, M.D. (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) and Rachel Wozniak, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Rochester/Flaum
Eye Institute)
ARVO Executive Vice President Craig Crosson, Ph.D., (Medical University of South Carolina) right, and international advocate Caterina Gagliano, M.D., Ph.D. (Neurovisual Science Technology, Catania, Italy), far left, met with Virginia Boney and Jessica Philips in the office of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Senate LHHS appropriator
ARVO Executive Vice President Craig Crosson, Ph.D., (Medical University of South Carolina) right, and international advocate Caterina Gagliano, M.D., Ph.D. (Neurovisual Science Technology, Catania, Italy), far left, met with Virginia Boney and Jessica Philips in the office of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Senate LHHS appropriator
From left: Daniel Carr, Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma Health Science Center) and international advocate Qingjiong Zhang, M.D., Ph.D. (Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, China) with Katherine Mayne, office of newly-elected Senator James Lankford (R-OK), a Senate LHHS appropriatorFrom left: Daniel Carr, Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma Health Science Center) and international advocate Qingjiong Zhang, M.D., Ph.D. (Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, China) with Katherine Mayne, office of newly-elected Senator James Lankford (R-OK), a Senate LHHS appropriator
From left: Debasish Sinha, Ph.D, Akrit Sodhi, M.D., Ph.D., and Bonnielin Swenor, M.D. (all from the Johns Hopkins University/Wilmer Eye Institute) with Pooja Mehta, office of Senator Barbara Mikulksi (D-MD), who serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a Senate LHHS appropriator
From left: Debasish Sinha, Ph.D, Akrit Sodhi, M.D., Ph.D., and Bonnielin Swenor, M.D. (all from the Johns Hopkins University/Wilmer Eye Institute) with Pooja Mehta, office of Senator Barbara Mikulksi (D-MD), who serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a Senate LHHS appropriator
From left: Melea Atkins in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with Cindy Park-Windhol, Ph.D. and Alexandra Bowers, Ph.D. (both from Harvard Medical School/Schepens Eye Research Institute), and Nicole Ross, O.D. (New England College of Optometry)
From left: Melea Atkins in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with Cindy Park-Windhol, Ph.D. and Alexandra Bowers, Ph.D. (both from Harvard Medical School/Schepens Eye Research Institute), and Nicole Ross, O.D. (New England College of Optometry)
Ting Xie, Ph.D. (Stowers Institute for Medical Research), right, with Brian Perkins, office of Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a Senate LHHS appropriator
Ting Xie, Ph.D. (Stowers Institute for Medical Research), right, with Brian Perkins, office of Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a Senate
LHHS appropriator
From left: Jeff Norton accompanied his father Tom Norton, Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham) in a visit with Kimberly Brown, Ph.D. and Emily McBride in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
From left: Jeff Norton accompanied his father Tom Norton, Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham) in a visit with Kimberly Brown, Ph.D. and Emily McBride in the office of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Gordon Laurie (University of Virginia) with John Lange, office of Congressman Robert Hurt (R-VA)
Gordon Laurie (University of Virginia) with John Lange, office of Congressman
Robert Hurt (R-VA)
Vallabh Das, Ph.D. (University of Houston College of Optometry) with Courtney Asbill, office of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Vallabh Das, Ph.D. (University of Houston College of Optometry) with Courtney Asbill, office of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Susana Chung, O.D., Ph.D.(University of California Berkeley), left, and Diana Lee, a medical student from Georgetown University, right, with Megan Thompson, office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee