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ARVO Advocates Urge $2 B NIH Funding Increases in FY2017 and 2018 Citing the Dramatic Return on Past NIH/NEI Investment in OCT

Advocates who began their day with House visits included, from left: Rithwick Rajagopal, M.D., Ph.D. and Thomas Ferguson, Ph.D., (both from Washington University), Lisa Keay, Ph.D. (University of Sydney), Erica Landis, B.S. (Emory University), Maxine Miller, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh), Frank Proudlock, Ph.D. (University of Leicester) and Paul Gamlin, Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
Advocates who began their day with House visits included, from left: Rithwick Rajagopal, M.D., Ph.D. and Thomas Ferguson, Ph.D., (both from Washington University), Lisa Keay, Ph.D. (University of Sydney), Erica Landis, B.S. (Emory University), Maxine Miller, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh), Frank Proudlock, Ph.D. (University of Leicester) and Paul Gamlin, Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
On February 17, NAEVR managed for ARVO’s Annual Meeting Planning Committee (AMPC) an Advocacy Day that engaged 21 domestic and international advocates who visited 36 Congressional offices, including several of Republican leaders with appropriations or authorization jurisdiction over the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Eye Institute (NEI). Although the group, which included six Emerging Vision Scientists (EVSs)—early-stage investigators who have not yet received an R01 grant (see box below)—visited these offices early in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 appropriations process, their NIH and NEI funding requests also related to FY2017, as Congress has not yet finalized FY2017 spending and the government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until April 28, 2017.

The advocates urged Congress for $2 billion increases to NIH base funding in each FY2017 and 2018—in addition to the supplemental funding for specific projects in the 21st Century Cures Act passed by Congress last December. In requesting that Congress finalize FY2017 appropriations and not pass a full-year CR, they emphasized the detrimental effects of long-term CRs/delayed appropriations, which essentially reflect a cut due to biomedical inflation and often require researchers to seek bridge or philanthropic funding while awaiting federal funding.

They demonstrated the value of past NIH/NEI investment with data from ARVO’s “Revealing the back of the eye with optical coherence tomography (OCT)” campaign. Focusing on information valued by policymakers, the data highlighted the more than 16,000 jobs supported by the technology and government spending avoided by using OCT to manage the prescription drug regimens for such retinal diseases as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Congressional staff reacted enthusiastically to receiving these new data on the tangible value of past investments.

To support their request for FY2018 NEI funding at $800 million, the advocates also used a NAEVR-prepared graphic which showed that, even with the $2 B NIH funding increase in FY2016, NEI’s operating budget of $708 million reflected the first time in four years that its budget exceeded the FY2012 pre-sequester funding level of $702 million—albeit by a modest 0.8 percent—due to the devastating impact of a $36 million sequester cut in FY2013. The graphic also showed that NEI has lost 25 percent of its purchasing power since FY2003.

To access all of the Advocacy Day materials, click here.

The international advocates added greatly to the discussions, describing the important global role that NEI serves with respect to training and research collaborations. The EVS delegation, which reflected clinicians, clinician-scientists, and basic researchers dealing with a wide range of eye diseases, emphasized the impact that past funding cuts, flat funding, and lack of inflationary increases at the NEI have had on their training and career paths. As part of their message, NAEVR reminded all domestic advocates to invite the Member or their staff to visit their institution to learn first-hand about vision research.

Reflecting on the day, NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky stated, “I am pleased that the ARVO AMPC Advocacy Day enables the vision research community to be among the first of many advocates to visit Capitol Hill during the appropriations cycle. This year’s participants did an outstanding job in justifying the requested NIH/NEI funding increases with the ARVO-generated OCT materials, which impressed many offices—not only of reliable NIH champions, but also those who have questioned the value of past NIH investment. We were fortunate to meet with the personal and Committee staff of so many key Republican leaders who have expressed support for a pattern of robust, sustained, and predictable NIH funding increases.”

Emerging Vision Scientists Join ARVO AMPC Members as Advocates

Since 2015, NAEVR has included a dedicated EVS track within the ARVO AMPC Advocacy Day to address the unique challenges that early-stage researchers face while seeking their first NIH grant. This year’s group of EVSs included the following:

Oscar Carrasco-Zevallos, B.S. (Ph.D. candidate, Duke University)
Erica Landis, B.S. (Ph.D. candidate, Emory University)
Heather Livengood, Ph.D. (New York University)
Maxine Miller, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh)
Rithwick Rajagopal, M.D., Ph.D. (Washington University)
Brian Song, M.D. (Harvard/ Mass Eye & Ear)

EVS impressions include:

“I never realized the sheer volume of requests that policymakers and their staff receive from their constituents and other organizations. It makes it that much more important to maximize that face-to-face time with tangible evidence emphasizing the significance of your cause.” Dr. Song

It was very enlightening to talk to Congressional staffers. I left with a much better understanding of how the funding process worked, and I am excited to share everything that I have learned with my department.” Ms. Landis

“The House and Senate meetings have been a great experience. I have become aware of the NIH/NEI funding issues and the need to educate others and to advocate. Because of this experience, I feel comfortable speaking about the NIH budget and how previous government funding has catapulted discovery, leading to technology such as OCT, which has proven to be an extraordinary investment.” Dr. Miller

In the office of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who chairs the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee and is a champion of $2 billion NIH funding increases, from left: Dr. Ferguson, Laura Friedel, LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Clerk, Desiree Mowry (Blunt personal staff), Dr. Keay, and Dr. Rajagopal
In the office of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), who chairs the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee and is a champion of $2 billion NIH funding increases, from left: Dr. Ferguson, Laura Friedel, LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Clerk, Desiree Mowry (Blunt personal staff), Dr. Keay, and Dr. Rajagopal
In the office of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with authorizing jurisdiction over NIH, from left:   Mackensie Burt (personal staff) and Lucas Da Pieve (Committee staff) with Milam Brantley, M.D., Ph.D. (Vanderbilty University), rear, and  Antonio Longo, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Catania/Italy), front
In the office of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with authorizing jurisdiction over NIH, from left: Mackensie Burt (personal staff) and Lucas Da Pieve (Committee staff) with Milam Brantley, M.D., Ph.D. (Vanderbilty University), rear, and Antonio Longo, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Catania/Italy), front
From left: Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) with Dr. Gamlin. Senator Shelby serves on the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee
From left: Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) with Dr. Gamlin. Senator Shelby serves on the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee
Ziky Ababiya in the office of Senator Chris van Hollen (D-MD) with Osamah Saeedi, M.D.  (University of Maryland)
Ziky Ababiya in the office of Senator Chris van Hollen (D-MD) with Osamah Saeedi, M.D. (University of Maryland)
Andrew Vogt (second left) from the Senate HELP Committee staff met with EVSs  Heather Livengood, Ph.D. (New York University), Oscar Carrasco-Zevallos, B.S. (Duke University) and Brian Song, M.D. (Harvard/Mass Eye & Ear)
Andrew Vogt (second left) from the Senate HELP Committee staff met with EVSs Heather Livengood, Ph.D. (New York University), Oscar Carrasco-Zevallos, B.S. (Duke University) and Brian Song, M.D. (Harvard/Mass Eye & Ear)
Peter Koulen, Ph.D. (University of Missouri), center, and Vivian Choh, Ph.D. (University of Waterloo), right, with Victoria Lee in the office of Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) who serves on the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee
Peter Koulen, Ph.D. (University of Missouri), center, and Vivian Choh, Ph.D. (University of Waterloo), right, with Victoria Lee in the office of Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) who serves on the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee
Eric Buckland, Ph.D., right, with Meghan Stringer, office of Cong. Virginia Fox (R-NC). Dr. Buckland is the CEO of Bioptigen, which develops OCT systems.
Eric Buckland, Ph.D., right, with Meghan Stringer, office of Cong. Virginia Fox (R-NC). Dr. Buckland is the CEO of Bioptigen, which develops OCT systems.
In the office of Cong. Rodney Frehlinhusen (R-NJ), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, Dr. Livengood (right) with Steve Silvestri
In the office of Cong. Rodney Frehlinhusen (R-NJ), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, Dr. Livengood (right) with Steve Silvestri
From left: Alexandra Benavente-Perez, Ph.D. (SUNY College of Optometry), Enrica Strettoi, Ph.D. (Neuroscience Institute/Italy), and Shahar Frenkel, M.D., Ph.D. (Hadassah-Hebrew University/Israel) with Morgan Brand in the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)
From left: Alexandra Benavente-Perez, Ph.D. (SUNY College of Optometry), Enrica Strettoi, Ph.D. (Neuroscience Institute/Italy), and Shahar Frenkel, M.D., Ph.D. (Hadassah-Hebrew University/Israel) with Morgan Brand in the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)
From left: Alexandra Damis-Wulff in the office of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) with Brad Fortune, O.D., Ph.D. (University of Oregon/Devers Eye Institute) and Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, Ph.D. (University of California/Davis)
From left: Alexandra Damis-Wulff in the office of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) with Brad Fortune, O.D., Ph.D. (University of Oregon/Devers Eye Institute) and Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, Ph.D. (University of California/Davis)