EVS

Emerging Vision Scientists to Congress: Finalize FY2023 Spending Bills Since Delayed Appropriations Hurt Scientific Progress

The class of the Eighth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists Day (see names in the box below) who participated in the AEVR and NAEVR events reflecting the breadth of breakthrough vision research and were nominated by their Departments of Ophthalmology or Schools/Colleges of Optometry from across the nation
The class of the Eighth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists Day (see names in the box below) who participated in the AEVR and NAEVR events reflecting the breadth of breakthrough vision research and were nominated by their Departments of Ophthalmology or Schools/Colleges of Optometry from across the nation

On September 21 and 22, AEVR’s Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Initiative hosted its Eighth 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 2022, occurred as Congress was working to finalize Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 appropriations before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. This was the first time the EVS events have been held in person since 2019, due to the pandemic.

The 21 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 National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Eye Institute (NEI)––attended AEVR’s annual International AMD Awareness Week Congressional Briefing on September 21 and displayed posters of their research in an evening Congressional Reception. On September 22 and under the auspices of NAEVR, they visited their Congressional delegation offices, where they requested final, robust NIH/NEI appropriations.  

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 the 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   

Several 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 to fully explain the potential benefit of the research investment.

AEVR Executive Director Dan Ignaszewski hosted a brief program that included comments from Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Associate Director for Science Policy and Legislation, who described the Institute’s commitment to the next generation of vision scientists.  RPB President Brian Hofland, PhD, also spoke.

Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Associate Director for Science Policy and Legislation
Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Associate Director for Science Policy and Legislation
RPB President Brian Hofland, PhD
RPB President Brian Hofland, PhD

NAEVR Advocacy Day

On this very busy legislative advocacy day, the 21 EVSs conducted 45 Congressional office visits, both in person and virtual, including several with Members of Congress who wanted to hear directly about the concerns of early-stage investigators. Mr. Ignaszewski and NAEVR Director of Government Relations David Epstein each joined several visits throughout the day.     

In their meetings, the advocates thanked Congress for the robust NIH/NEI funding increases in the FY2016-2022 timeframe. In requesting that Congress finalize FY2023 appropriations in a timely fashion––with continued robust increases for NIH/NEI–– they also cautioned about the detrimental impact that Continuing Resolutions (CRs) can have on research, including delaying awards or requiring researchers to seek “bridge” funding while awaiting funding.  

The advocates reiterated NAEVR’s request for FY2023 NEI funding of $950 million, to rebuild the NEI’s base funding level after years of increases that failed to keep pace with inflation.  They also stated that the House-passed funding level of $891.2 million, while still short of what is needed, is preferable to the draft Senate bill that would fund the NEI slightly lower at a level of $890.7 million.

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 invited Congressional Members and staff to visit their department or School/College.    

The advocacy didn’t end in Washington for two of the EVSs. On her flight home, Angelica Scanzera, OD (University of Illinois) was seated next to her Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), whose staff Dr. Scanzera had met with earlier in the day and was interested in hearing about her research.  And on her Amtrak back home, Cui Qi, MD, PhD, was seated next to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who though not from her home state, was still very interested in hearing the message about the importance of robust federal funding for eye and vision research.

Joel Miesfeld, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin), right, speaks with Kiley Mulligan, office of Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Joel Miesfeld, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin), right, speaks with Kiley Mulligan, office of Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Yanhui Ma, PhD, Kelsey Steel, OD, third from left, and Thomas Mendel, MD, PhD, fourth from left, all from Ohio State University, with James Longley, office of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

From left: Rinki Ratnapriya, PhD (Baylor College of Medicine) and Maria Walker, OD, PhD (University of Houston College of Optometry) with Colin Yokanovich, office of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)
From left: Rinki Ratnapriya, PhD (Baylor College of Medicine) and Maria Walker, OD, PhD (University of Houston College of Optometry) with Colin Yokanovich, office of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

From left: Nora Scott, RPB, Sam Afsharipour, office of Cong. Mondaire Jones (D-NY, Carlos Parra, PhD (NYU Grossman School of Medicine) Michael Telias, PhD (Flaum Eye Institute /U. of Rochester) and Dr. Hofland
From left: Nora Scott, RPB, Sam Afsharipour, office of Cong. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Carlos Parra, PhD (NYU Grossman School of Medicine) Michael Telias, PhD (Flaum Eye Institute /U. of Rochester) and Dr. Hofland

Tara Jordan, office of Senator Michael Bennet, with Miguel Flores-Bellver, PhD (University of Colorado)
Tara Jordan, office of Senator Michael Bennet, with Miguel Flores-Bellver, PhD (University of Colorado)
Tasneem Sharma, PhD (Indiana University), right, with Christopher Kulukundis, office of Cong. Victoria Spartz (R-IN)
Tasneem Sharma, PhD (Indiana University), right, with Christopher Kulukundis, office of Cong. Victoria Spartz (R-IN)
Safal Khanal, OD, PhD (University of Alabama) with Nelson Park, office of Cong. Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Safal Khanal, OD, PhD (University of Alabama) with Nelson Park, office of Cong. Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Dan Gong, MD (Mass Eye & Ear) with Amy Papanu, office of Cong. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
Dan Gong, MD (Mass Eye & Ear) with Amy Papanu, office of Cong. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
Irena Tsui, MD, and Zhihong (Jewel) Hu, PhD (both from UCLA) on a virtual visit with Cong. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Irena Tsui, MD, and Zhihong (Jewel) Hu, PhD (both from UCLA) on a virtual visit with Cong. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Jami Gurley, PhD (Dean McGee Eye Institute/University of Oklahoma) with Matthew Penner, office of Senator James Lankford (R-OK)
Jami Gurley, PhD (Dean McGee Eye Institute/University of Oklahoma) with Matthew Penner, office of Senator James Lankford (R-OK)
Cui Qi, MD, PhD (University of Pennsylvania) with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Cui Qi, MD, PhD (University of Pennsylvania) with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Angelica Scanzera, OD (University of Illinois), right, sitting with Cong. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on her return flight home from Washington
Angelica Scanzera, OD (University of Illinois), right, sitting with Cong. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on her return flight home from Washington

Impressions:

RPB President Brian Hofland, PhD

“It was energizing to be back on the Hill post-pandemic, speaking about the need for robust and sustained funding for the National Eye Institute and the National Institutes of Health. It was exciting to see both the knowledge and passion that the Emerging Vision Scientists bring to their research. The excellent training session by AEVR helped the scientists do a masterful job of summarizing their research in accessible and meaningful ways to intelligent lay and policy audiences. Now, they are primed and ready to continue their advocacy efforts back home.”

EVS Impressions/Development

Including the 2022 event, AEVR/NAEVR has sponsored more than 160 EVSs in Capitol Hill activities over the past eight 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:

It was my first experience meeting with congressional staff and advocating. I believe I can do better next time. I am lucky that I am getting great training from ARVO Science Communication Training Fellowship (SciCommTF) and will have the opportunity to participate in Advocacy Day next February in DC again. With this positive experience, I am truly looking forward to it. – Yanhui Ma, PhD (Ohio State University)

Thank you for your efforts in making this a success was truly outstanding and was evident in the seamless transition between meetings to the extensive details that were provided for each task. Mainly the wealth of information that I have acquired during these few days will be beneficial even in any future advocacy events that I participate in at the University or broader scientific community. – Tasneem Sharma, PhD (Indiana University School of Medicine)

I really enjoyed sharing my research with colleagues and guests, and further developing my advocacy skills.   – Carlos Parra, PhD (New York University)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the NAEVR/AEVR advocacy day last week and the work you do to push forward funding for the NEI. It was a pleasure to learn how to be a good advocate, and represent all the emerging and established vision scientists in the U.S. While I know changing any policy or getting new funds for anything is tough, I hope together we made even a minor impact on the opinions of our representatives in regards to NEI funding. – Joels Miesfeld, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)

Anil Chekuri, PhD (Schepens Eye Research Institute/Mass Eye & Ear)

Parisa Emami, MD, MPH (University of California Davis)

Miguel Flores-Bellver, PhD (University of Colorado)

Dan Gong, MD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School)

Jami Gurley, PhD (Dean McGee Eye Institute/U. of Oklahoma)

Safal Khanal, OD, PhD (UAB School of Optometry)

Yanhui Ma, PhD (Ohio State University)

Thomas Mendel, MD, PhD (Ohio State University)

Joel Miesfeld, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)

Michael O'Hare, PhD (Harvard Medical School/Mass Eye & Ear)

Carlos Parra, PhD (NYU Grossman School of Medicine)

Cui Qi, MD, PhD (University of Pennsylvania)

Rinki Ratnapriya, PhD (Baylor College of Medicine)

Angelica Scanzera, OD, MPH (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Tasneem Sharma, PhD (Indiana University School of Medicine)

Kelsey Steele, OD (Ohio State University College of Optometry)

Michael Telias, PhD (Flaum Eye Institute /U. of Rochester)

Christopher Toomey, MD, PhD (Shiley Eye Institute/U. California San Diego)

Irena Tsui, MD (University of California Los Angeles)

Maria Walker, OD, PhD (Umiversity of Houston College of Optometry)

Hu Zhihong (Jewel), PhD (Doheny Eye Institute/UCLA)

Written summaries and documentary videos of all previous EVS days are available on the NAEVR/AEVR website.