Vision Researcher Testifies at Senate Hearing on Missed Opportunities in Vision Research

May 19, 2006
CONTACT: James F. Jorkasky
Executive Director
[email protected]


Dr. Peter McDonnell Testifying before the Senate Appropriations LHHS Subcommittee
Dr. Peter McDonnell, center, testifying before the
Senate Appropriations LHHS Subcommittee

(Washington, D.C.) Today, Dr. Peter McDonnell (Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) testified on behalf of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee about the impact on vision research from a cut to National Eye Institute (NEI) funding, as proposed in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 budget. The President’s budget proposal would flat-fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the FY2006 level of $28.5 billion and cut NEI funding by 0.8 percent, or $5.3 million, reducing the NEI’s budget to $661 million.

“The President’s proposed FY2007 budget will have a detrimental impact on the entire NEI research portfolio, especially on its aggressive research programs into age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that are the direct result of the past NIH budget-doubling,” said Dr. McDonnell, who noted that AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the United States that is increasingly robbing our seniors of independence and quality of life. Dr. McDonnell identified three specific examples of NEI-funded breakthroughs in AMD and the missed opportunities in follow-up research as a result of the proposed FY2007 NEI budget cut:

  • NEI-funded researchers have identified variants of a gene associated with the body’s inflammatory response that are responsible for 50 percent of the risk of developing advanced AMD. Without adequate funding, NEI will not be able to develop diagnostics for early detection of at-risk individuals and conduct clinical studies with promising therapies, as well as study the impact of the inflammatory response in other degenerative eye diseases.
  • NEI-funded researchers have demonstrated that high levels of dietary zinc and antioxidant vitamins reduce vision loss in individuals at risk of developing advanced AMD. Without adequate funding, NEI will not be able to proceed with follow-up clinical studies with additional dietary supplements, used singly and in combination, to demonstrate even greater protective effects against progression to advanced AMD.
  • NEI-funded research has resulted in the first generation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs to treat abnormal blood vessel growth in the “wet” form of AMD, halting further vision loss. Without adequate funding, NEI will not be able to conduct clinical studies of existing and new therapies, used singly and in combination, to not only stop disease progression but to restore vision. Additionally, NEI’s ability to conduct clinical studies of these therapies in patients with macular edema associated with diabetic retinopathy will be jeopardized.

Dr. McDonnell with Senator Arlen Specter

Dr. McDonnell concluded by reiterating NAEVR’s request, as presented in accompanying written testimony, for FY2007 NIH funding at $29.8 billion, or a 5 percent increase over FY2006, and NEI funding at $711 million, or 6 percent over FY2006, to balance the biomedical inflation rate of 3.8 percent and to maintain the momentum of discovery.

Dr. McDonnell was joined by representatives of several medical research advocacy organizations in requesting an NIH budget increase in FY2007. The panel presented its concerns after NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni testified and responded to questions from Subcommittee members. Throughout the past year, Dr. Zerhouni has heralded the discovery of an AMD gene as an NIH breakthrough.

Peter McDonnell, M.D., is the Director and William Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology of the Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He previously served as the Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California-Irvine. His research interests include the impact of refractive error on quality of life, the surgical correction of refractive error and gene therapy to control wound healing and inflammation.

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR) is a non-profit advocacy coalition comprised of 55 professional, consumer and industry organizations involved in eye and vision research. NAEVR’s goal is to achieve the best vision for all Americans through advocacy and public education for eye and vision research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Eye Institute (NEI) and other federal research entities. Visit NAEVR’s Web site at