NEI Director’s Message: A National Plan for Vision Research
Each of the institutes at NIH periodically undergoes a planning process to explore needs and opportunities for research. The rapid growth of fields that barely existed a decade ago, such as genomics, epigenetics, proteomics, systems biology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and bioengineering, combined with renewed emphasis on evidence-based medicine, patient-oriented outcomes and translational research convinces me that the future is brighter than ever. Indeed, our challenge is to set priorities and identify the best, most productive avenues. More then ever, in these times of government belt-tightening, it is essential for the NEI to re-examine the research portfolio and determine the most pressing needs and priorities in vision research.
Historically the NEI was one of the first NIH institutes to employ scientific planning to guide its granting decisions. Since the late 1970s, the National Plan for Vision Research or, NEI strategic plan, has been revised approximately every five to seven years. The last plan was completed in 2004, and so it is again time to examine our accomplishments and establish new directions and goals for the future.
In view of this acceleration in knowledge acquisition, I have asked Dr. Richard Fisher, the director of the NEI Office of Program Planning and Analysis (OPPA), to re-examine the planning process in part to make strategic planning an ongoing endeavor that will insure the NEI and vision research community address emerging trends. In response, the OPPA convened a meeting of the Planning Oversight Workgroup consisting of current and former National Advisory Eye Council (NAEC) members and other senior vision researchers to offer guidance on the strategic planning process.
The Workgroup issued a report to the NAEC strongly endorsing the long-held belief that NEI strategic planning be guided by the core principle that investigator-initiated research is the main engine that drives scientific discovery. The Workgroup, with concurrence from the NAEC, recommended that the strategic planning process employ expert panels dedicated to specific areas of vision research, create an ongoing process to identify new opportunities, and use targeted initiatives to implement planning recommendations. Council endorsed the NEI’s recent structural changes in managing grant portfolios where the traditional programs (such as Retinal Diseases) are enhanced by developing complementary, crosscutting programs, such as Ocular Genetics, to provide a more comprehensive, scientifically-integrated plan.
A set of general strategic planning goals was also created to:
Identify scientific directions for which NEI is well positioned to make major contributions.
Ensure a transparent, inclusive process with grantees and other constituencies having an active role.
Provide a structure for ongoing implementation and evaluation.
Evaluate the role of NEI operational policies.
With a process in place to implement strategic planning, the institute will next create expert program panels to review progress in the field and recommend future research goals. This will depend on the participation of the vision research community to provide expert guidance to insure that the next National Plan for Vision Research produces a valuable document to guide the field.
Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.