NAEVR Defense Funding Session Features New DOD Vision Program Manager, Insights into the FY2018 Program Announcement
New CDMRP Vision Program Manager Tian Wang, PhD addresses the audience
NAEVR’s April 30 Defense-Related Vision Research Opportunities session at the ARVO Annual Meeting in Honolulu introduced new Department of Defense (DOD) Vision Research Program (VRP) Manager Tian Wang, PhD to the research community. Dr. Wang—who received her PhD in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology from Northwestern University, has more than 23 years of experience in biomedical science research, teaching, training and administration, and has co-authored 24 peer-reviewed publications—also manages the Hearing Restoration Program within DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), in addition to the VRP.
Dr. Wang emphasized that, unlike the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant review process, CDMRP uses a two-tier review process—Peer Review first for scientific merit, and then Program Review for military relevance, especially that which responds to DOD-identified research gaps noted in the Program Announcement. She then provided a history of DOD funding for vision research, stating that since 2001 the CDMRP has funded $230 million in 189 awards, including Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. Within that total, and since it was created by Congress in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Defense appropriations and through FY2017, the VRP has been funded by Congress at $70.2 million and has made 83 awards for a total $82 million. She explained that the VRP has also managed additional funds from “sister” DOD agencies, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), accounting for the difference between enacted funding and the total awarded.
Dr. Wang concluded by announcing that the FY2018 Program Announcement is being finalized and should be released in July, detailing the grant mechanisms employed. Per an April 26 Preliminary Announcement released by the CDMRP, the FY2018 program will include Investigator Initiated Research Awards (IIRA) with maximum funding of $500,000 over three years and a new Focused Translational Team Science Award (FTTSA) mechanism, which seeks to support projects that are “highly collaborative” and would “fundamentally advance the understanding and treatment of military-relevant vision trauma.” The projects, which would be funded over a period of four years for a maximum of $5 million, must have three-five distinct research teams addressing a specific trauma. Although the VRP is not funding a full Clinical Trial Award in FY2018 as it did in FY2017, the FTTSA may support a pilot clinical trial that would collect preliminary data.
Dr. Wang was joined by past VRP awardees, who spoke about their experiences in successfully navigating the VRP grant process in previous funding cycles. Kia Washington, MD (University of Pittsburgh)—who spoke at AEVR’s Defense-related Vision Research Congressional Briefing in March 2018 about her research on Whole Eye Transplantation—discussed her initial receipt of a $250,000 VRP Hypothesis Development Award in FY2013, which led to her receiving a $6 million award from the Joint Warfighter Program (JWP) in FY2016 to continue her research. Rajendra Kumar-Singh, PhD (Tufts University) has received two awards from the VRP, the first in FY 2011 and the second in FY2015.
VRP Programmatic Panel Chair Robert Mazzoli, MD (Col., U.S. Army, Retired) was in the audience and helped respond to questions from researchers.
Dr. Wang also spoke about other DOD funding opportunities, including the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), the SBIR/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs, and the JWP. In discussion afterward, Mr. Jorkasky reminded attendees that DOD funding opportunities are available to domestic and international researchers, and that those who navigate the VRP are more likely to apply for funding from other DOD programs with key words such as “sensory” and “rehabilitation” and for diseases with a vision impact.
Subsequent to the session, Dr. Wang attended the ARVO Annual Meeting and met one-on-one with researchers at a dedicated CDMRP booth from Monday through Wednesday. NAEVR wishes to thank Dr. Wang for her participation in the session and her dedication to the VRP, the ultimate goal of which is to help soldiers who have experienced battlefield eye injuries and blindness.
From left: Kia Washington, MD (University of Pittsburgh), Rajendra Kumar-Singh, PhD (Tufts University), Dr. Wang, and NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky. Drs. Washington and Kumar-Singh, who both have received multiple grants from the DOD, spoke to the audience about their experiences in applying for research funding.
VRP Programmatic Panel Chair Robert Mazzoli, MD (Col., U.S. Army, Retired) answers questions about the VRP
Dr. Wang and Mr. Jorkasky with (left) Brandon Tourtillott, PhD (Lt. Col., U.S. Air Force), from the CDMRP’s Clinical & Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program and who participates on the VRP Programmatic Panel
As in past years, the NAEVR session had strong attendance despite the 7 am start time
On April 17—just two weeks prior to the ARVO Annual Meeting—NAEVR’s James Jorkasky and David Epstein were guest attendees at a “Stakeholders” meeting of the VRP Programmatic Panel. At that meeting, the Panel heard from a range of speakers about the current status of research funded by other federal institutions (National Eye Institute, Department of Veterans Affairs) and by private vision research funding foundations, as well as the economic cost of military eye injuries and vision loss to society. The Panel then reviewed the adequacy of the current list of DOD-identified vision trauma research gaps.
Steven Fliesler, PhD (SUNY-Buffalo/VA Medical Center-Buffalo), the Research Stakeholder Representative to the VRP Programmatic Panel, spoke about the state of science in vision research. Dr. Fliesler is serving as the 2018-2019 President of the ARVO Board of Trustees.
Left to right: NAEVR’s James Jorkasky with Brian Hofland, PhD (Research to Prevent Blindness) and Kevin Frick, PhD (Carey School of Business/Johns Hopkins University). Dr. Hofland spoke about support from private vision research funding foundations while Dr. Frick spoke about the 2017 AEVR update of NAEVR’s 2012 Cost of Military Eye Injury study. The update estimates the cost of military eye injuries and blindness in the 2000-2017 timeframe at $45.5 billion, driven primarily by the present value of a lifetime of long-term benefits, lost wages, and family care.