Emerging Vision Scientists Among First to Thank Congress for Final FY2019 NIH/NEI Appropriations
The class of the Fourth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists Day (see names in box below) who participated in the AEVR and NAEVR events reflecting the breadth of breakthrough vision research who were nominated by their Departments of Ophthalmology or Schools/Colleges of Optometry from across the nation
On September 27, AEVR’s Decade of Vision 2010-2020 Initiative hosted its Fourth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists (EVS) Day on Capitol Hill, which was supported by a grant from Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB). The event, held during Healthy Vision Month and International Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Week 2018, occurred as Congress passed—and the President signed—H.R. 6157, the minibus Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending bill that finalized Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) appropriations prior to the end of FY2018. The LHHS bill includes a $2 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH) increase and a $24.2 million National Eye Institute (NEI) increase, and the Defense bill provides a $5 million increase in the Peer Reviewed Vision Research Program (VRP), to a record funding level of $20 million.
The 20 early-stage investigators—reflecting the breadth of basic and clinical vision research and who have not yet received their first investigator-initiated (R01) grant from the NIH/NEI—attended AEVR’s annual International AMD Awareness Week Congressional Briefing, provided on-camera interviews about their research for a documentary video, and displayed posters of their research in an evening Congressional Reception. On September 28 and under the auspices of NAEVR, they visited their Congressional delegation offices, where they were among the first to thank their Congressional delegations for the final FY2019 NIH/NEI appropriations and request that the pattern of robust increases continue.
Both the educational and advocacy activities were built around one question—“How will the breakthrough research being conducted by these EVSs prevent, delay, and treat vision disorders--which will grow to an annual United States cost burden of $717 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars by year 2050, as projected by Prevent Blindness in its 2014 study entitled The Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems.
AEVR EVS Poster Reception
Although focused on the descriptive posters presented by the EVSs, the 2018 Reception also recognized anniversaries—NEI’s 50th as the NIH Institute leading the nation’s sight-saving and vision-preserving mission, and AEVR’s 25th as “The Friends of the NEI.”
A number of the EVSs presented research into therapies and technologies that are in development by a team in which they participate at their academic institution led by an NEI-funded Principal Investigator. The posters not only described the research, but also presented “public health” data about the incidence/impact of the disease and its cost as a means to fully explain the potential benefit of the investment in the research.
AEVR President Peter McDonnell, MD (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) hosted a brief program, acknowledging that earlier in the day a USA Today special supplement on “Vision and Hearing” issued and featured a “foreword” authored by him that described NEI’s 50 years of accomplishments. Michael Steinmetz, PhD, NEI’s Director of Extramural Science Programs, also offered a welcome and discussed the Institute’s commitment to the next generation of vision scientists throughout its 50-year history. Dr. Steinmetz was joined by NEI’s Shefa Gordon, PhD (Acting Director of the Office of Program Planning and Analysis) and Maria Zacharias (Director of Communications) in visiting posters and speaking with the EVSs.
AEVR Board President Peter McDonnell, MD (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) addresses
NEI Director of Extramural Science Programs Michael Steinmetz, PhD, speaks about the NEI’s commitment to the next generation of
From left: Research to Prevent Blindness President Brian Hofland, PhD, AEVR’s Director of Education David Epstein, and Thanasis Panorgias, PhD (New England College of Optometry)
Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL), center, speaks with Dimitra Skondra, MD, PhD (University of Chicago), right, as Dr.
Christine Curcio, PhD (University of Alabama Birmingham), who spoke earlier in the day at AEVR’s International AMD Awareness Week 2018 Congressional Briefing, with Josh Ehrlich, MD (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center)
Basil and Karen Petrou (Foundation Fighting Blindness Board) and Matthew Shaw with Dr. Steinmetz. Ms. Petrou authored the initial draft of House legislation, H.R. 6421, the Faster Cures and Treatments for Eye Diseases Act, that would authorize and implement the Eye Bond program of private vision funding (see Advocacy Day below).
From left: Dr. Steinmetz, David Wu, MD, PhD (Harvard University/Mass Eye & Ear) and Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Acting Director of the Office of Program Planning and Analysis
AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky with Joe Bogart, Executive Director of Blinded Veterans Association
NAEVR Advocacy Day
On a very busy and historic day on Capitol Hill that also included a Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting about Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the 20 EVSs conducted 36 Congressional office visits, including three with Members of Congress who wanted to hear directly about their concerns as early-stage investigators. NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky and Director of Government Relations David Epstein were joined by ARVO’s Senior Manager, Science Communications, Matt Windsor, PhD in accompanying EVSs in their visits to document their participation on social media and in NAEVR and ARVO publications.
In their meetings, the advocates thanked Congress for the final FY2019 NIH/NEI appropriations and emphasized the need for continued robust increases as they proceed with their vision science careers. In House visits, the EVSs requested that the Member become a co-sponsor of H.R. 6421, the Faster Cures and Treatments for Eye Diseases Act, that would authorize and implement the Eye Bond program of private vision research funding.
Matthew Fuentes in the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tests a wearable “Sensory Substitution Device” that can convert vision into patterns of sound, enabling users to learn to see again through their remaining senses, being developed by Giles Hamilton-Fletcher, PhD (NYU Medical Center)
Many of the EVSs shared a one-page graphic of their research and emerging therapies/technologies, emphasizing the potential benefit and return on the federal investment. Per NAEVR’s training at a Preparatory Breakfast, the EVSs offered to serve as a reference on vision issues for their delegation offices and also invited the Member and staff to visit their Department or School/College.
Cong. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a retiring co-Chair of the Congressional Vision Caucus, with Alfonso Sabater, MD, PhD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer)
Dimitra Skondra, MD (University of Chicago) with Cong. Danny Davis (D-IL)
Congressman William Keating (D-MA) with Kevin Houston, OD (Harvard University/Mass
Eye & Ear)
Rachel Pearce, office of Cong. Don Bacon (R-NE), with Matthew Van Hook, PhD (University of Nebraska)
Kathryn Irwin, office of Senator Kamela Harris (D-CA), with Tawna Roberts, OD, PhD (Akron Children’s Hospital, soon to join Stanford University Department of Ophthalmology)
From left: Kevin Houston, OD and David Wu, MD, PhD (Harvard University/Mass Eye & Ear), Briana Battle, office of Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), and Thanasis Panorgias, PhD (New England College
From left: Onkar Sawant, PhD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute), Jenny Huang, OD, PhD (Ohio State College of Optometry), Alyssa Brockington, office of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Justis Ehlers, MD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute)
Gregory Moore, OD (Kentucky College of Optometry/University of Pikeville) with Mike Fischer, office of Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
Kristina Haworth, OD, PhD (Southern College of Optometry) with Courtney Bradway, office of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
From left: Jillian Pearring, PhD and Mia Woodward, MD (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center), Devin Parsons, office of Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), with Josh Ehrlich, MD, MPH (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center) and Andrew Garrett, PhD (Wayne St. University)
From left: Alfonso Sabater, MD, PhD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer), Eduardo Sacasa, Office of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Cristina Law OD, PhD, (Nova Southeastern U. College of Optometry), and Cristhian Ildefonso, PhD (University of Florida). Senator Rubio serves on the Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee, with funding oversight for NIH/NEI.
From left: Rachel Wozniak, MD, PhD (University of Rochester), Matthew Fuentes from the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dr. Hamilton-Fletcher, and Dr. Hofland
Comment from EVS Day Sponsor RPB
For the fourth year, RPB provided a grant to support the EVS events. This year, RPB President Dr. Brian Hofland accompanied Drs. Giles-Hamilton Fletcher and Dr. Rachel Wozniak in New York delegation visits, commenting afterward:
“This was the fourth year that RPB sponsored the EVS Day. It was wonderful that FY2019 NIH and NEI appropriations already were finalized, enabling participants to present their breakthrough research and describe plans to submit their first Investigator-Initiated (R01) grant within that positive context. This year, instead of focusing on how delayed appropriations would have negative impacts on their career plans, the EVSs emphasized how their research has the potential both to improve quality of life and reduce healthcare costs. Congressional staff was especially receptive to this messaging about the value of the nation’s investment in vision research.
I continue to be impressed with the passion, knowledge, and drive of these early-career investigators. I am proud of RPB’s role in providing early grant support of the next generation of vision scientists as they proceed to seek federal funding.”
Including the September 2018 event, AEVR/NAEVR have sponsored more than 100 EVSs in Capitol Hill activities over the past four years. The Alliances designed this program to be an important component of an EVS’s professional development, as well as to develop the next generation of vision research advocates. Comments from this year’s participants include:
“I appreciate having been included in the 2018 EVS events. I learned much more about the political system and now understand how significant it is to participate in the process.”
“I managed to establish a lot of meaningful connections with attendees of the Poster Reception with whom I will follow up, learning about opportunities for advancing my media training and documentary-filming in the future, and getting to make contact with my Representatives to make the case for vision research directly to their staff.”
“It was a really terrific experience being there and part of this day. I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to partake in this very worthwhile and important experience.”
“I want to thank AEVR/NAEVR for organizing this event and giving a unique opportunity. Our Ohio Senate delegation visits went very well, with staff asking many questions and willing to look into the numbers that we presented. Of course, Dr. Ehlers and I offered to host the Member/staffer in a tour of the Cole Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic.”
Justis Ehlers, MD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute)
Josh Ehrlich, MD, MPH (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center)
Andrew Garrett, PhD (Wayne St. University)
Giles Hamilton-Fletcher, PhD (NYU Medical Center)
Kristina Haworth, OD, PhD (Southern College of Optometry)
Kevin Houston, OD (Harvard University/Mass Eye & Ear)
Jenny Huang, OD, PhD (Ohio State College of Optometry)
Cristhian Ildefonso, PhD (University of Florida)
Cristina Law OD, PhD, (Nova Southeastern U. College of Optometry)
Gregory Moore, OD (Kentucky College of Optometry/University of Pikeville)
Thanasis Panorgias, PhD (New England College of Optometry)
Jillian Pearring, PhD (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center)
Tawna Roberts, OD, PhD (American Academy of Optometry)
Alfonso Sabater, MD, PhD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer)
Onkar Sawant, PhD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute)
Dimitra Skondra, MD, PhD (University of Chicago)
Matthew Van Hook, PhD (University of Nebraska)
Mia Woodward, MD (University of Michigan/Kellogg Eye Center)
Rachel Wozniak, MD, PhD (University of Rochester)
David Wu, MD, PhD (Harvard University/Mass Eye & Ear)