AOA Investigator Initiated Research Award

The AOA recognizes the importance of knowledge and discovery within and emerging from the profession of optometry, as well as the need to support early-stage investigative work that is likely to attract additional future funding.

For the sixth consecutive year, the AOA will again sponsor the Investigator-Initiated Research Award. This award is designed to stimulate future investigator-initiated awards from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other major funding agencies by supporting AOA members pursuing innovative, independent, investigator-initiated research with a strong potential for future, large-scale, multi-year project funding. Investigators are invited to submit proposals designed to increase knowledge through basic clinical and/or translational science relative to the continuum of eye and vision care. The AOA will provide a maximum of $50,000 in direct costs for research conduct. Please review the information below and submit your proposal.

Online submission form

All submitted proposals will be considered for funding, including but not limited to the following foci of interest:

  1. Public policy and health care outcomes research that examines a wide range of topics, such as the effects of vision screenings and school-based health care, remote monitoring and management of patients with chronic disease telehealth applications, the evidenced-based treatment of co-morbid eye and systemic conditions, as well as, comparisons of in-person versus remote care.
  2. Basic and translational research that may examine the mechanism of eye disease or investigates novel treatments to advance eye care.
  3. Clinical research that may compare treatments, explores the natural course of disease, or seeks to improve the management of vision-related problems in any manner.
  4. Research relative to eye care and public health including, but not limited to: preventative and/or collaborative care, determinants of health, health literacy and health disparities. 

Award structure

This award is designed for AOA member doctor and scientists pursuing or maintaining a research career, either of a clinical or basic science nature. Preference will be given for work that is innovative, independent and demonstrates a strong potential to lead to future extramural funding. The AOA will provide a maximum of $50,000 in direct costs for research conduct. Projects should be designed to be completed within the award period (12 months). A no-cost extension, up to 12 additional months, may be requested. No indirect cost support (i.e., facilities and administration fees) will be provided, nor can the applicant's institution use the awarded funds for such costs.

Allowable expenses include : (1) salary support for the applicant and/or study personnel (up to a maximum of 50% of the total award); (2) supplies and equipment needed to conduct the research (to include subject compensation, if applicable); and (3) travel that is required for the success of the project.

Any request for travel funding must be fully justified and will be carefully scrutinized for relevance to and necessity for completing the scientific objectives. Budgets will be evaluated as part of the review process and funding awards will be contingent upon justification (e.g., how will the awarded funds help achieve the project aims). The AOA reserves the right to reduce awards. One award will be made for each review cycle, contingent upon the quality of proposals received. Each year the AOA Board of Trustees will determine whether future proposals for additional new awards will be solicited. Previous awardees may compete for continuation of funding (i.e., an additional award of $50,000) for one additional award cycle; however, all proposals, new and renewals, will be considered in competition with all applications received.

Review of proposals:

The AOA Council on Research (COR) is charged with evaluating each proposal with respect to:

  1. Qualifications of the applicant.
  2. Scientific merit of the proposal.
  3. Suitability of the research environment.
  4. Demonstration of appropriate IRB or IACUC oversight, when applicable.
  5. Appropriateness of the requested budget.
  6. Likelihood for the work to yield future expanded funding for optometry.
  7. Relevance of the work to the optometric profession and overall scientific impact.

The COR will identify and use reviewers for each application, either within COR or external, relative to needed content expertise for the application under review. Following review, the COR will make recommendations for funding to the AOA Board of Trustees. The AOA Board of Trustees will consider the recommendations of the COR as well as relevance of the proposed project to organizational needs. Applicants will receive anonymous summary statements detailing feedback from reviewers after review has concluded.



Proposals must be submitted electronically by June 15, 2024.

Citizenship and research location

U.S. citizenship is not a requirement for application; however, the proposed work must be conducted in the United States.


Applicants must be a member of the AOA in good standing and should be employed by a school or college of optometry (exceptions may be granted upon written request prior to proposal submission).

Scientific advising

Applicants must provide evidence of support in the design and conduct of their work by a statement from their institution's research administrator or dean/president.

Animal & human subject work

For work involving animals or human subjects, proper assurance of protections must be in place, either through affiliation with an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), Institutional Review Board (IRB), or equivalent centralized resource. While project-specific approvals do not have to be in place at the time of application, funding will not be provided until appropriate review assurances are provided. Proposals from applicants who do not demonstrate the ability to meet these requirements in a timely manner upon notification of selection for award will not be reviewed. Proposals for work that would ordinarily require significant oversight for the safety of study participants may also be excluded from consideration given limitations of the AOA to provide such oversight.


The successful applicant will be notified of their award by November 2024. Within three weeks following notification of selection for award, a letter of acceptance must be returned to AOA, signed by the grant recipient and an administrative officer at the sponsoring institution. Recipients should also submit a lay summary of their work and a photo to the AOA to use in publicizing the award. All IRB and/or IACUC assurances, if applicable, must be sought immediately upon notification of award and forwarded to the AOA when obtained.


Upon receipt of an acceptance letter and requested IRB and/or IACUC assurances by the recipient and the sponsoring institution (if applicable), the award will be made payable directly to the institution in one payment. All award funds are intended for use by the award recipient as outlined in the proposal's budget. Any intended changes for use of the funds by the award recipient should be submitted for prior approval to the COR. No fringe benefits, overhead or indirect costs may be charged against this award.


Award recipients must submit a progress report directly to the COR one calendar year after receipt of the award. The progress report must include a summary of expenses paid, a description of the work accomplished, any presentations or publications resulting from the work, and the anticipated timeline to seek additional funding for expanded work associated with the award. Recipients receiving a no-cost extension will be required to submit a second progress report at the end of the extended period. Reports will be used to evaluate the success of the grant mechanism and will be internally confidential. Investigators will retain intellectual rights to all data, as well as the right to publish their findings.

Relocations and Transfers

Award recipients who relocate within the award period after receiving award funds from AOA must negotiate with their sponsoring institution to transfer funds to the new location. The AOA is not responsible for agreements made between institutions in situations of award recipient relocation. Applicants who relocate while award recipient selection or payment is pending should contact COR immediately to disclose this information and work accordingly to modify their existing application, if it is deemed possible by the COR. If the work proposed by the applicant cannot be similarly completed at the new location of employment, the AOA reserves the right to dismiss the application and select a different award recipient.


An award may be terminated or cancelled by the AOA by notification to the recipient and applicable institution at the discretion of AOA. Termination may occur for circumstances such as: (1) failure to comply with stated award requirements; (2) failure to comply with human subject or animal regulatory requirements; (3) an investigator or team member is found to have committed research misconduct; (4) an investigator is found to have overlapping funding for the same work; (5) an investigator is not utilizing the funding in the manner described in the proposal.



Applications must be submitted online and must include all components listed below. Failure to adhere to any of the application requirements may eliminate the proposal from further consideration. Submit your proposal through the online submission form.

  • Application face sheet (applicant information, institutional information, etc.).
  • Project-specific aims-limited to one (1) or two (2) aims, not to exceed one page.
  • Research strategy (background and significance, innovation, approach, future directions and timeline for expansion of work), not to exceed six page.  Reference list.
  • Detailed budget with justification.
  • Description of research environment.
  • Statement of human subjects assurances, if applicable.
  • Statement of animal care and use assurances, if applicable.
  • Letter of support from research director or dean/president at sponsoring institution.
  • Biosketch that conforms to NIH guidelines for the applicant and any co-investigators/collaborators.
  • Supplemental documents such as letters of support from collaborators are permitted.

Previous Awardees

Lisa Ostrin, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry, was the inaugural recipient of the AOA Investigator-Initiated Research Award in 2019. Dr. Ostrin’s myopia in children's research was selected by the AOA to help
the optometric community better understand the complex etiology of myopia.

Elena Z. Biffi, O.D., M.S., associate professor at the New England College of Optometry (NECO) and an attending optometrist at NECO Center for Eye Care/South Boston Community Health Center Eye Clinic was the recipient for the 2020 award for her research focused on Non-Invasive Retinal Imaging in cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD).

In 2021, Timothy Plageman, Ph.D., associate professor at The Ohio State University, received the award to support his proposal to study the functions of the cortical cataract and high myopia associated gene Ctnnd2 in the mouse lens.

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