NAEVR and ARVO Host Special Defense Research Funding Opportunities Webinar

CDMRP Vision Program Manager Tian Wang, PhD (image from NAEVR’s 2019 Defense Vision Research Opportunities session at the ARVO Annual Meeting)CDMRP Vision Program Manager Tian Wang, PhD (image from NAEVR’s 2019 Defense Vision Research Opportunities session at the ARVO Annual Meeting)

On May 19 NAEVR, along with the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), held a special Defense Research Funding Opportunities Webinar which was hosted by NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky and Immediate-Past ARVO President W. Daniel Stamer, PhD, FARVO (Duke University). Featuring Q. Tian Wang, PhD, Program Manager for the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Vision Research Program (VRP), the event replaced NAEVR’s Defense Research Funding Opportunities session held annually at the ARVO Annual Meeting, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 300 interested researchers participated.

Dr. Wang discussed the VRP’s history, the two-stage process used for reviewing proposals—first a Scientific Peer Review, followed by a Programmatic Review as to how it meets DOD-identified research priorities—and the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Program Announcements, which were released  the next day. She detailed the VRP’s research priorities, funding mechanisms, application process, and dollar amounts and expected number of funded projects for each award from the total $20 million in funding provided by Congress—the second year in which the VRP has been funded at that level. The VRP is one of 35 medical research programs managed by the DOD's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). Since its establishment by Congress in FY2009 and through FY2019, the VRP has funded 117 projects for a total of $118 million.

Dr. Wang emphasized the need for better diagnostics, treatments, and restoration therapies for our nation’s wounded warriors noting, for example, that between year 2000 and third-quarter 2019 more than 400,000 U.S. service members had been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and that upwards of 75 percent of those who had suffered a TBI report some level of visual dysfunction.

The FY2020 VRP Program Announcements, which detail the three funding mechanisms and research priorities, in addition to other key information for researchers, are available on the CDMRP Web site.  Pre-proposals are due on July 28, and full proposals will be due November 18. The three distinct funding mechanisms include:

  • Investigator Initiated Research Awards (IIRA, with two funding levels)
  • Translational Research Awards (TRA)
  • Focused Translational Team Science Awards (FTTSA)

Although these are the same funding mechanisms used in the FY2019 process, the maximum funding levels for the TRA and IIRA Funding Level 2 awards have been increased with the goal of encouraging more research proposals.

Dr. Wang also briefly discussed other funding opportunities, such as the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program, and DOD Request for Information (RFI) /Request for Project Proposals (RPP).

After her presentation, Dr. Wang answered several of the many questions posed by the participants, including one about the best strategy to revise and resubmit proposed research projects that were not selected for funding in previous years. She acknowledged that is a difficult question to answer since it depends on where the project was scored as weak—in the Scientific Peer Review or Programmatic Review. Another researcher asked if projects using Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be considered, to which Dr. Wang replied that the current research priorities list is deliberately broad so that a well-written proposal that addresses AI use in battlefield trauma would merit consideration.

NAEVR’s Director of Government Relations David Epstein began the Webinar by detailing the history of NAEVR’s advocacy efforts with Congress to secure DOD funding for eye and vision research, which resulted in the establishment of the VRP in FY2009 Defense appropriations and led to the current funding level of $20 million. For FY2021, NAEVR and its advocacy partners, including ARVO, have requested that Congress fund the VRP at $30 million, a $10 million increase over FY2020. He emphasized 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. Through ten different DOD funding programs, vision researchers have received upwards of $213 million since 2001, including the VRP.

A recording of the Webinar is posted for viewing on the ARVO Web site. Researchers who would like to be informed about potential DOD funding opportunities should contact NAEVR’s David Epstein at to be added to NAEVR’s Defense Research Interest List.