NEI releases 5-year strategic plan identifying emerging opportunities

November 3, 2021
The National Eye Institute’s just-released strategic plan on vision for the future aligns with the AOA’s desire to support progressive research in eye health and vision care.
NEI releases detailed strategic plan on its priorities for the next five years

The National Eye Institute’s just-released NEI strategic plan on vision for the future aligns with the AOA’s desire to support progressive research in eye health and vision care.

The plan reflects emerging themes in eye and vision research and backs up the NEI’s newly minted mission statement “to eliminate vision loss and improve quality of life through vision research.” Its mission statement hadn’t been revised in more than 50 years.

The NEI leads the federal government’s research efforts—via directing and funding—on the visual system and eye diseases.

“NEI’s strategic plan builds upon the past decade’s major advances in regenerative medicine, genetics, artificial intelligence, personalized medicine, gene therapy, imaging, and more,” says NEI Director Michael Chiang, M.D., says. “It identifies research opportunities that may ultimately lead to improved quality of life and population health.”

Driving innovative research, inspiring and training a talented and diverse next generation and translating progress into practice are aims of the strategic plan.

The NEI also emphasized creating opportunities for collaborations in vision research and clinical care for developing new ideas and knowledge-sharing across disciplines. The AOA Investigator Initiated Research Award is an example of a collaboration between the AOA and a clinical researcher.

Heather Anderson, O.D., Ph.D., chair of the AOA Council on Research, noted the wide range of feedback provided by stakeholders including the AOA.

The council provides guidance and recommendations to the AOA Board of Trustees on research awards to fund, helps encourage the new generation of optometric researchers and serves as a resource on the latest research in eye health and vision care.

“The AOA was an active participant in making sure that optometry voiced its opinion when NEI solicited feedback,” Dr. Anderson says. “High quality research is critical for the advancement of the optometric profession to inform our practitioners and educators in meeting the needs of our patients with evidence-based practices to preserve ocular health and maximize vision.

“The NEI is a major funding source to support that research and we value its past, present and future contributions to support the work of our optometric researchers,” she adds.

AOA provides feedback

The AOA listed several recommendations in its letter to the NEI regarding its proposed strategic plan:

  • Refractive error
    AOA recommendation: NEI should give refractive error and optics a greater role in the NEI “areas of emphasis” moving forward.
  • COVID 19 Impact on Eye Health and Vision
    AOA recommendation: NEI should support research that assesses outcomes related to the use of telehealth for eye health and vision care.
  • Vision and education
    AOA recommendation: The NEI should support research that evaluates the link between vision and educational performance, and overall quality of life.
  • Gene therapy and vision rehabilitation

    AOA recommendation: As research related to gene therapy continues, it must be recognized and noted by NEI that continued optometric care of the eyes and visual system must continue parallel to the process of ocular gene therapy assessment and administration.

Read more about the NEI’s future direction in its “2021 Vision for the Future” released Nov. 1.

Value in AOA perspective

Overall, the AOA and its member doctors of optometry have much insight and expertise to offer federal agencies such as the NEI in contributing to the eye and vision-related research supported by the NEI and the National Institutes of Health, says Lori L. Grover, O.D., Ph.D.

“The AOA represents a large constituency of America’s eye doctors,” Dr. Grover says. “And our voice is being heard. It should be heard because of the role we play as the nation’s primary eye care providers and the unique perspective we bring to the table due to our comprehensive education and training. 

“The nation benefits from our perspective as eye care providers but also due to our contributions in knowledge discovery across many arenas including chronic diseases, health care delivery, treating vision impairment and public health,” she adds. “We contribute important knowledge and discovery in all areas that impact health.”

NEI-supported future research can further reduce the impact of vision loss and sight-threatening diseases, says Dr. Grover who was beginning to delve into the depths of the new five-year strategic plan.

That benefits patients and the doctors of optometry who care for them.

“The more research we do now—upstream, to fill identified gaps and prevent vision loss—the higher quality of life people can have,” she says. “And the better eye and vision health Americans have, the healthier our nation will be overall. Doctors of optometry play a huge part in that.”

Further, Dr. Grover welcomed opportunities for future collaboration with the NEI and other groups.

“We invite NEI to draw upon the expertise, education and perspective of the optometric community,” she says. “Doctors of optometry are uniquely positioned, because of their role as primary eye care providers, to identify the needs of their patients and to highlight those investments that might have the greatest impact on the lives of Americans. We also encourage the NEI to place a high priority on obtaining input from the optometric community, including in the makeup of advisory bodies and committees.”

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