The National Eye Institute (NEI) just announced that fighting blindness — retinal degenerations, in particular — has gotten audacious. It’s potentially life-changing news for people with these difficult conditions.
For more than a year, the NEI has focused significant resources on establishing what it calls an “audacious goal” to fundamentally change the game in vision research and eye care. With so many great breakthroughs occurring in a variety of eye research areas, the NEI recognized it was the ideal time to consolidate energies of the vision science community and present a challenging goal that NEI Director Dr. Paul Sieving said is “big, important and inspiring.” The development of the initiative included review of more than 500 suggested research goals, which were read by more than 80 experts.
I am delighted to report that the NEI’s unveiling of its audacious goal at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology is an enormous boost and affirmation for those of us on the front lines of fighting retinal degenerative diseases. The goal, “to regenerate the neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system,” is exactly what people with retinal diseases need to save and restore their vision. And most of the cutting-edge technologies that will get us to the goal — including gene therapies and stem cells — are exactly what the Foundation Fighting Blindness has taken a leadership role in supporting for the last four decades.
When you look back at the biggest breakthroughs made in retinal research — the identification of the first retinitis pigmentosa gene, the proof that gene therapy can restore vision in humans, and making new photoreceptors from stem cells — most were made by visionary researchers funded by the Foundation. We empowered those scientists to take the bold risks that held the potential to save and restore vision. Many times, those risks led to big advances and dramatically changed the retinal research landscape.
It took audacity for Gordon Gund and the late Ben Berman to establish the Foundation in 1971. But they knew no one would do it for them. Everyone who has joined the Foundation’s family since — researchers, donors and volunteers alike — is audacious in their own way. Whether you are forming a VisionWalk team, organizing a chapter meeting or donating money, you are stepping out of your comfort zone to make a difference. You know the work isn’t always easy, but you also know that no one will do it for you.
We at the Foundation applaud the NEI for its audacious goal and look forward to hearing more about the details to achieve it. The initiative holds great potential for helping people with retinal degenerations. The Foundation stands ready to help the vision community achieve this goal by continuing to drive the cutting-edge research that will deliver the preventions, treatments and cures available to the millions who need it.
In the meantime, don’t forget to be audacious. After all, you are part of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Pictured Above: Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Eye Institute