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The National Eye Institute Should be Funded at $711 Million in FY2005

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), on behalf of the eye and vision research community, requests that funding for the National Eye Institute (NEI) be increased to $711 million for fiscal year 2005 in order to complete the promised doubling of the NEI budget and bring it into proportion with the other Institutes within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a result, NEI will be able to support research that promises to prevent vision loss and cure some forms of blindness and vision impairment among the more than 38 million Americans currently experiencing blindness, low vision, or age-related eye disease, thereby improving their lives and reducing the economic burden these conditions create.

  • Federal funding for eye and vision research has lagged behind funding for other types of health research.

    While Congress doubled the NIH budget between 1998 and 2003, the NEI failed to receive a proportionate doubling of its research budget in the same time period. And, prior to 1998, the annual budgetary increases for the NEI were two-to-three-fold lower than annual budgetary increases appropriated for the NIH.

  • Research underway by NEI-funded scientists promises not only to slow the progression of vision loss but actually to restore vision to some individuals who are already blind.

    New gene therapies will likely be used to correct or treat genetic forms of neurodegenerative eye diseases and rare ocular cancer. Gene replacement therapy experiments in dogs with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), which is a rapid retinal degeneration that blinds infants in the first year of life, have found that vision can be safely restored long-term with a single treatment. People suffering from diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and other kinds of ocular diseases may literally have vision restored to their lives as the research investment facilitates development of new treatments.

  • The annual economic and societal burden of vision-related disabilities is significant.

    The annual economic and societal cost of eye care services and vision-related disabilities is more than $68 billion, and does not include costs of secondary illness or injury associated with blindness, as well as the loss of revenue to various industries whose products require adequate visual performance.

  • Vision impairment is a national disability with a high economic burden and significant unmet medical need.

    In the United States, more than 38 million Americans suffer from significant vision impairment, including 1 million who are legally blind, over 2 million with low vision, and another 35 million who experience Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Diabetic Retinopathy, Glaucoma, and Cataracts. These conditions can lead to loss of independence and significantly reduce quality of life.

  • The number of Americans with vision impairment and blindness is growing exponentially.

    Within the next 20 years, the number of people with AMD and other major age-related eye diseases will grow exponentially, especially due to an aging population. By 2020, our nation will likely have more than 50 million Americans with significant vision loss or blindness.

    Today, 9 million people in the United States over the age of 40 have intermediate-to-advanced stage vision loss caused by AMD. One out of every two people over age 85 have AMD, and the population of individuals over age 85 is the most rapidly growing segment of the population. Currently, only one FDA-approved treatment is available for individuals with the most severe form of AMD, and this treatment benefits less than 5% of AMD patients.

    With such promising ongoing research and with new therapies on the horizon that could transform the lives of millions of Americans, increasing the funding for eye and vision research would be a cost-effective investment in the public well-being at this time. Further, increasing such funding to a level of parity with NIH funding as a whole is a matter of fundamental fairness.

    The eye and vision research community urges you to strongly support a total FY 2005 NEI funding amount of $711 million so that this important eye and vision research can continue.