|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 2006
|CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
NAEVR URGES HOUSE LHHS APPROPRIATORS TO INCREASE
FY2007 NIH AND NEI FUNDING; CITES ‘MISSED OPPORTUNITIES’
(Washington, D.C.) Today, the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) submitted written testimony to the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which held a hearing to address Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni was the featured witness.
NAEVR requested FY2007 NIH funding at $29.8 billion, or a 5 percent increase over FY2006, to balance the biomedical inflation rate of 3.8 percent and to maintain the momentum of discovery. NAEVR asked Congress to make vision research funding a top priority, requesting FY2007 National Eye Institute (NEI) funding of $711 million, a 6 percent increase over FY2006. The President’s FY2007 budget proposed to flat-fund NIH at the FY2006 level of $28.5 billion and to cut NEI funding by 0.8 percent, or $5.3 million, reducing NEI’s budget to $661 million.
In its testimony, NAEVR cited several recent examples of NEI-funded research on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness, that have been heralded by Dr. Zerhouni as NIH “breakthroughs.” NAEVR identified potential “missed opportunities” to follow through with further research on these breakthrough discoveries due to reduced NEI funding. These examples included:
- Breakthrough: NEI-funded researchers have discovered a gene strongly associated with AMD. Variants of the gene are associated with the body’s inflammatory response and are likely responsible for 50 percent of the cases of AMD.
Missed Opportunity: Following up on the AMD gene discovery by developing diagnostics for early detection and promising therapies, as well as to further study the impact of the body’s inflammatory response on other degenerative eye diseases.
- Breakthrough: NEI’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) demonstrated that high levels of dietary zinc and antioxidant vitamins (Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene) are effective in reducing vision loss in people at high risk of developing advanced AMD.
Missed Opportunity: Following up on the initial AREDS study with additional dietary supplements, singly and in combination, to determine if they can demonstrate or enhance their protective effects against progression to the advanced form of AMD shown in previous studies.
- Breakthrough: NEI research into factors that inhibit new blood vessel growth has been translated into the first generation of ophthalmic drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inhibit abnormal blood vessel growth in “wet” AMD, thereby stabilizing vision loss.
Missed Opportunity: Following up with further clinical trials on patients with “wet” AMD, as well as patients with macular edema caused by diabetic retinopathy, using the new generation of ophthalmic drugs singly and in combination to halt disease progression and potentially improve impaired vision.
NAEVR’s comments noted that, in addition, NEI research into significant eye disease programs, such as glaucoma and cataract, will be threatened, along with quality of life research programs into low vision and chronic dry eye. This comes at a time when the US Census and NEI-funded epidemiological research both cite significant demographic trends that will increase the public health problem of vision impairment and eye disease. These include an aging population, the disproportionate incidence of eye disease in minority populations and vision impairment as a result of other chronic diseases, such as diabetes. NEI currently estimates the annual economic and societal cost of vision impairment and eye disease at $68 billion.
The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) is a non-profit advocacy coalition comprised of 50 professional, consumer and industry organizations involved in eye and vision research. NAEVR’s goal is to achieve the best vision for all Americans through advocacy and public education for eye and vision research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Eye Institute (NEI) and other federal research entities. Visit NAEVR’s Web site at www.eyeresearch.org.