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The National Eye Institute Should be Funded at $711 Million in FY2006

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 2006, or a 6 percent increase.

This "Citizen's Budget" for the NEI represents the eye and vision research community's judgment as the level necessary to advance the breakthroughs resulting from NEI's basic and translational research. As a result, NEI can support research that will result in treatments and therapies to prevent the onset of disease and restore vision.

Vision impairment and eye disease is a major public health problem that is growing and which disproportionately affects the aging and minority populations.

Today, more than 38 million Americans age 40 and older experience significant vision impairment and eye disease. This includes 3.3 million who are blind or experience low vision, and this number is expected to grow to 5.5 million by 2020. About 35 million Americans experience an age-related eye disease, including age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, and this number is expected to grow to 50 million by 2020.

Additionally, the Hispanic and African American populations experience a disproportionate incidence of glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, the latter being the leading cause of blindness in individuals of all races in the age group of 25-74 years old.

The economic and societal costs of vision impairment and eye disease are significant and growing. Adequately funding NEI is a cost-effective investment in our nation's vision health.

Current annual federal funding for the NEI is less than one percent of the $68 billion spent annually on visual disorders and disabilities, which does not even fully quantify the impact of lost productivity and diminished quality of life. Adequately funding the NEI can delay, save and prevent expenditures, especially those to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. For example:

  • NEI-funded researchers have developed treatments for diabetic retinopathy that save $1.6 billion annually.

  • NEI-funded researchers have developed treatments for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a blinding complication in premature babies. As a result, more than 1,500 infants born each year with this condition experience sighted lives, which would have cost the government $1 million in benefits and lost taxes over the lifetime of each child.

Past NEI-funded basic and translational research is resulting in treatments and therapies to slow the progression of vision loss and restore vision.

The past federal investment in the NEI is paying off in terms of exciting new treatments and therapies for a variety of visual disorders affecting Americans of all ages and races, including:

  • NEI is conducting additional clinical trials on nutritional supplements that may slow the progression of AMD, following previous research demonstrating that zinc and three antioxidant vitamins (Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene) are effective in reducing vision loss in people at high risk for developing advanced AMD.

  • An NEI-sponsored study has found that eye injections of bone-marrow derived stem cells prevented vision loss in two rodent models of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a family of eye diseases that cause vision loss. This study raises the possibility that patients could receive an injection of their own bone marrow stem cells to preserve central vision.

  • NEI-supported investigators are moving closer to human clinical trials of a gene therapy to treat neurodegenerative eye diseases, including Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), which is a rapid retinal degeneration that blinds infants in the first year of life. Previous research resulted in restored vision in dogs with LCA.

    The eye and vision research community urges you to strongly support funding the NEI at $711 million in FY2006. NEI-sponsored research results in therapies that reduce healthcare expenses and returns individuals to productive roles in society. It is a cost-effective investment in maintaining the momentum of discovery and ultimate vision health of all Americans.

    Eye and Vision Breakthroughs:
    Keep The Research Drive Alive!
    www.eyeresearch.org