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NEI Deputy Director

Santa Tumminia, Ph.D.

Santa Tumminia

Santa Tumminia, Ph.D. is the  Deputy Director of the National Eye Institute (NEI). Dr. Tumminia is experienced in basic, clinical and translational research, and executive-level management in government, non-profit and corporate environments.

Dr. Tumminia earned a Ph.D. in Biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987.  Following postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, Hoffman La-Roche, Inc., where she examined the protein-nucleic acid interactions involved in ribosome assembly, Dr. Tumminia then joined the NEI Laboratory of Mechanisms of Ocular Diseases.  Her research focus was on the mechanisms of ocular diseases, specifically, glaucoma and cataract formation.  While at the NEI, she studied cataract formation caused by oxidative stress and in transgenic mice caused by the HIV-1 protease linked to a lens crystallin promoter. She studied the efficacy of anti-cataract agents as well as HIV-1 protease inhibitors. She also developed a model system to mimic the effects of glaucoma using a self-designed mechanical stretch device. She then transitioned to the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB), the largest non-government funder of retinal disease research. At FFB, she held several positions eventually becoming Director of Grants and Awards overseeing the grant portfolio of the foundation.

Dr. Tumminia returned to NEI in the Office of the Director in 2003 serving in various positions of increasing responsibility.  She provides leadership and scientific expertise on NEI policies and initiatives and manages projects and programs involving both intramural and extramural activities.. She has expertise in a wide range of vision research issues and policies related to NEI’s trans-NIH programs in genetics and genomic medicine, behavioral science, angiogenesis, nanomedicine, translational science and rare diseases.  She has developed policies to foster strategic partnerships with stakeholders including industry, patient advocacy groups, and individuals impacted by vision loss. 

Dr. Tumminia has been key in formulating policies on new basic and clinical research concepts and initiatives, such as the NEI Audacious Goals Initiative. She provided NEI leadership on stem cell policies and initiatives, standing up an NEI Office of Regenerative Medicine to catalyze collaboration.  She designed, implemented and oversees the rare inherited eye disease initiative, the National Ophthalmic Disease Genotyping and Phenotyping Network or eyeGENE®. This vision genomic medicine initiative is a public private partnership launched in 2006 that bridges advances in ophthalmic disease gene identification to clinical care management and facilitates research and treatment efforts. Other key initiatives include the Age-Related Macular Degeneration Integrative Biology Initiative designed to correlate AMD disease phenotype and cellular endophenotypes with patient genetics. This includes developing iPSC lines from AMD patients with the highest genetic AMD risk and providing those lines to the research community.

Dr. Tumminia served as Acting Director of the NEI from 2019-2020. During her tenure as Acting Director she established two new officies, the Office of Data Science & Health Informatics and the Office of Visual Health & Population Science to accelerate scientific discovery, foster collaborative research, and ultimately improve public health.. She also initiated the NEI Strategic Planning process, “2020 Vision for the Future”. In addition, she oversaw the launch of the Anterior Segment Initiative, which focuses on the biology and pathobiology of the front of the eye. She set up programs to improve equity and organizational inclusiveness, and has been working with NEI senior leadership to increase the representation of underrespresented minorities in vision science.  

Dr. Tumminia has served on many trans-NIH committees, and is a member of several prominent professional societies.  She has received numerous awards including NIH Director’s Awards for the NIH-wide Strategic Plan Working Group and the eyeGENE® Initiative. In 2018, she received the NIH Director’s Award in Mentoring.

Dr. Tumminia is known internationally and respected as a distinguished individual of outstanding scientific competence and administrative capability.  Through her leadership, NEI has developed partnerships with eye health care providers, private industry, patient constituencies and extramural scientists who support broad research initiatives.

Last updated: November 20, 2020