In Action

Emerging Vision Scientists to Congress: Finalize FY2020 Spending Bills Since Delayed Appropriations Hurt Scientific Progress

The class of the Fifth Annual Emerging Vision Scientists Day (see names  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 18 and 19, AEVR’s Decade of Vision 2010-2020 Initiative hosted its Fifth 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 2019, occurred as Congress was working to finalize Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. AEVR/NAEVR Board President Paul Lee, MD, JD (Kellogg Eye Center/University of Michigan) participated in all events, as did Brian Hofland, PhD, the President of sponsoring organization RPB.

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 National Institutes of Health (NIH) or National Eye Institute (NEI)––attended AEVR’s annual International AMD Awareness Week Congressional Briefing, displayed posters of their research in an evening Congressional Reception, and provided on-camera interviews about their research for a documentary video. On September 19 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 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  
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 research investment.

Dr. Lee hosted a brief program that included comments from Michael Steinmetz, PhD, NEI’s Director of Extramural Science Programs, who described the Institute’s commitment to the next generation of vision scientists. He was joined by NEI’s Shefa Gordon, PhD and Nora Wong, MPH from NEI’s Office of Program Planning and Analysis and Dustin Hays from NEI’s Office of Communications. The NEI team visited each poster and spoke with the researchers, as did Dr. Lee and Dr. Hofland. Cong Scott DesJarlais, MD (R-TN) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) visited the posters after also attending AEVR’s AMD Congressional Briefing earlier that day.

NEI Director of Extramural Programs Michael Steinmetz, PhD with AEVR/NAEVR Board President Paul Lee, MD, JD (Kellogg Eye Center/University of Michigan)

Cong. Scott DesJarlais, MD (R-TN), speaks with Irina De La Huerta, MD, PhD (Vanderbilt University)

Cong. Steve Cohen (D-TN), left, speaks with Sumit Sharma, MD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute), and Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Director of the Office of Program Planning and Analysis

Cong. Steve Cohen (D-TN), left, speaks with Sumit Sharma, MD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute), and Shefa Gordon, PhD, NEI’s Director of the Office of Program Planning and Analysis

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) President Brian Hofland, PhD with Ian Han, MD (University of Iowa)

Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) President Brian Hofland, PhD with Ian Han, MD (University of Iowa)

NAEVR Advocacy Day
On this very busy legislative day, the 20 EVSs conducted 47 Congressional office visits, including one with a Member of Congress who wanted to hear directly about concerns of early-stage investigators. NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky and Director of Government Relations David Epstein were joined by ARVO’s Science Communications Manager Erin Hering 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 robust NIH/NEI funding increases in the FY2016-2019 timeframe, as well as for passing the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 in late July that increases the FY2020 and 2021 spending caps. In requesting that Congress finalize FY2020 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. That same day, however, the House did pass a CR funding the government in FY2020 until November 21, as the House and Senate were mired in disagreement over the appropriation bills’ top-line funding levels and policy riders.

In House visits, the EVSs also requested that the Member become a co-sponsor of H.R. 2620, the Faster Cures and Treatments for Eye Diseases Act, which would authorize and implement the “Eye Bond” program of private funding to speed translational vision research.

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.

Jesson Martin, PhD (Kentucky College of Optometry) with Cong. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Ranking Member on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Vision Research Program (VRP) funding

Jesson Martin, PhD (Kentucky College of Optometry) with Cong. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Ranking Member on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Vision Research Program (VRP) funding  

Daniel Coates, PhD (University of Houston College of Optometry), right, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

Daniel Coates, PhD (University of Houston College of Optometry), right, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

From left: NAEVR/AEVR Board President Paul Lee, MD, JD, and Abigail Fahim, MD, PhD (both from the Kellogg Eye Center/University of Michigan) with Devin Parsons, office of Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)

From left: NAEVR/AEVR Board President Paul Lee, MD, JD, and Abigail Fahim, MD, PhD (both from the Kellogg Eye Center/University of Michigan) with Devin Parsons, office of Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)

Ava Bittner, OD, PhD (UCLA/Jules Stein Eye Institute) with Aurora Paik, office of Cong. Ted Lieu (D-CA)

Ava Bittner, OD, PhD (UCLA/Jules Stein Eye Institute) with Aurora Paik, office of Cong. Ted Lieu (D-CA)

An-Jey Su, PhD (University of Colorado), right, with Sherie Lou Santos, office of Cong. Diana DeGette (D-CO)

An-Jey Su, PhD (University of Colorado), right, with Sherie Lou Santos, office of Cong. Diana DeGette (D-CO)

Jessica Steen, OD (NOVA Southeastern College of Optometry), left, and Florence Cabot, MD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer), right, with Jaime Varela, office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee member with jurisdiction over <br />NIH/NEI funding

Jessica Steen, OD (NOVA Southeastern College of Optometry), left, and Florence Cabot, MD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer), right, with Jaime Varela, office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee member with jurisdiction over NIH/NEI funding

Jessica McNiece, office of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), with Stephanie Adams, OD, PhD (Illinois College of Optometry). Sen. Durbin is a Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee member.

Jessica McNiece, office of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), with Stephanie Adams, OD, PhD (Illinois College of Optometry). Sen. Durbin is a Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee member.

From left: Vicki Chen, MD (Tufts Medical Center), Jia Yin, MD, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School), Nikki Hart, office of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Kinga Bujakowska, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School), and Sangeetha Metlapally, PhD (New England College of Optometry)

From left: Vicki Chen, MD (Tufts Medical Center), Jia Yin, MD, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School), Nikki Hart, office of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Kinga Bujakowska, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School), and Sangeetha Metlapally, PhD (New England College of Optometry)

Lynn Hassman, MD, PhD (Washington University) with Daniel Kishi, office of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Lynn Hassman, MD, PhD (Washington University) with Daniel Kishi, office of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)

From left: Muneeb Faiq, PhD (NYU/Langone), Jasmin Palomares, office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ajay Kuriyan, MD (Flaum Eye/University of Rochester), and Brian Hofland, PhD, President of Research to Prevent Blindness

From left: Muneeb Faiq, PhD (NYU/Langone), Jasmin Palomares, office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ajay Kuriyan, MD (Flaum Eye/University of Rochester), and Brian Hofland, PhD, President of Research to Prevent Blindness

Susana da Silva, PhD (University of Pittsburgh) with Kate Werley, office of Cong. Mike Doyle (D-PA)

Susana da Silva, PhD (University of Pittsburgh) with Kate Werley, office of Cong. Mike Doyle (D-PA)

Mike Weiss, office of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), with Ross Collery, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)

Mike Weiss, office of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), with Ross Collery, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)

Impressions:
AEVR/NAEVR Board President Paul Lee, MD, JD

“Having heard about the value of the EVS program from past Kellogg participants, I was pleased to attend this year’s events and experience it all first-hand. From speaking with Members of Congress and their staff at the evening Poster Reception to making Michigan delegation office visits, I appreciated being an active participant along with the EVSs and emphasizing the importance of continued robust funding for the NIH and NEI, especially to support the next generation of vision scientists.”

RPB President Brian Hofland, PhD

“The Fifth Annual EVS Day was important––the cost of biomedical research goes up significantly each year with the rapid rate of medical inflation, and it’s essential that we educate members of Congress and their staffs on the need to provide robust funding for cutting-edge vision research. It’s also important to help early-career scientists to bring their real-life research experiences to the Hill. Through this event we’re empowering participants to make an immediate difference in the future of our field and, hopefully, setting up a life-long commitment to science advocacy.”

EVS Impressions/Development
Including the 2019 event, AEVR/NAEVR have sponsored more than 120 EVSs in Capitol Hill activities over the past five 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:

“My visit to Capitol Hill really opened my eyes to the process of advocacy for research funding, as well letting me communicate my desire and ability to help those suffering from vision loss and eye disease. I felt lifted away from test-tubes and pipettes to appreciate the bigger picture as I met with legislators to discuss research and development that comes from NEI funding. Finally, it was great to meet my EVS colleagues, a group of energetic and committed researchers aware of the need for funding to continue to support their endeavors.” ––Dr. Collery

“I could feel the enthusiasm emanating as I described the tremendous impact of NIH funding and the importance of my research to help people with vision loss as I spoke to the Congressional staff. They were extremely positive and engaged in the discussion, which created a truly special, rewarding experience as I had the opportunity to drive home the message that robust increases in NIH/NEI funding are critical to support our work that has direct, meaningful impact on visually impaired patients and has great potential to substantially improve clinical care nationwide. It is truly an exciting time to be a young clinician-scientist who will help shape the future of vision research.” –– Dr. Bittner

“Time is the limited resource for all of us. As an early career clinician scientist trying to balance the rigors of clinical care, starting and maintaining a lab, and investing in teaching and mentorship, it is easy to overlook the importance of advocacy on local and national levels. The EVS day highlighted for me the importance of dedicating time and effort to interact with influential leaders in our government to ensure continued support for the things we do daily--provide excellent clinical care, teach the next generation, and advance our ability to diagnose and treat eye disease.” 
–– Dr. Han   

Stephanie Adams, OD, PhD (Illinois College of Optometry)
Ava Bittner, OD, PhD (UCLA/Stein Eye)
Kinga Bujakowska, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School)
Florence Cabot, MD (University of Miami/Bascom Palmer)
Vicki Chen, MD (Tufts Medical Center)
Daniel Coates, PhD (University of Houston College of Optometry)
Ross Collery, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)
Susana da Silva, PhD (University of Pittsburgh)
Irina De La Huerta, MD, PhD (Vanderbilt University)
Abigail Fahim, MD, PhD (University of Michigan)
Muneeb Faiq, PhD (NYU/Langone)
Ian Han, MD (University of Iowa)
Lynn Hassman, MD, PhD (Washington University)
Ajay Kuriyan, MD (Flaum Eye/University of Rochester)
Jesson Martin, PhD (Kentucky College of Optometry)
Sangeetha Metlapally, PhD (New England College of Optometry)
Sumit Sharma, MD (Cleveland Clinic/Cole Eye Institute)
Jessica Steen, OD (NOVA Southeastern College of Optometry)
An-Jey Su, PhD (University of Colorado)
Jia Yin, MD, PhD (Mass Eye & Ear/Harvard Medical School)

Written summaries and documentary videos of each the 2015 through 2018 events are posted on the Web site.