NEI is committed to supporting the highest quality, highest impact vision research and maintains its emphasis on investigator-initiated research. However, the NEI, as a steward of the public trust, has the responsibility to manage resources efficiently, provide leadership to the vision research community, and plan for the future. Since NEI was established over 40 years ago, strategic planning activities have culminated in a series of national plans and workshop reports that identify needs and opportunities in vision research. These planning efforts have relied on the expertise of NEI-funded investigators to review the state of the science and describe current research required to advance progress in treating and curing visual disorders and blindness. The most recently completed report is entitled, Vision Research: Needs, Gaps, and Opportunities (2012 PDF).
NEI began the Audacious Goals (AG) Initiative last year to consider how to avail ourselves of the vast new opportunities in biology that have developed over the recent decades. We developed our planning activities to spur innovation and energize the vision research community. Input was solicited from a wide variety of vision researchers, ophthalmologists, optometrists, biomedical engineers, foundations and patient advocacy groups, and others.
To gather ideas, we began with an open prize competition called the NEI Challenge to Identify Audacious Goal in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation. We received about 500 one-page ideas that were reviewed by 81 experts in vision research. Next, a federal panel of judges evaluated the most favorably reviewed submitted ideas and selected ten winners (http://www.nei.nih.gov/challenge/).
The winners and about 200 additional experts in vision research met to discuss the top Audacious Goal at the NEI Audacious Goal Development Meeting on February 24-26, 2013. The ten winning ideas were consolidated into six major themes that were discussed by several small groups at the meeting. Each of the thematic groups presented their best ideas for an AG at the end of the meeting.
Over the next several weeks, the NEI leadership thoroughly discussed the proposed meeting AGs and determined that two of the proposed goals reflected disciplines that were selected as high priority research areas: Molecular Therapy for Eye Disease and the Intersection of Aging & Biological Mechanisms of Eye Disease.
A single Audacious Goal (AG) emerged at the February meeting, namely, Regenerating Neurons and Neural Connections in the Eye and Visual System. Currently, the NEI is planning workshops to identify the challenges, needs, gaps, and opportunities that will lead to specific research projects geared to advance work toward the goal. To begin this effort, we established an AG target development working group of 10 extramural scientists, including several members of the National Advisory Eye Council, to refine the AG to one or more specific target(s). We will continue to rely on external advice and oversight of our approaches and funding activities over the course of this program and will continue to document these activities on the AG Main Page.