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Important Events in NEI History

Dr. Jules Stein speaks in favor of creating the NEI before the House Subcommittee on Public Health and Welfare
Dr. Jules Stein speaks in favor of creating the NEI before the House Subcommittee on Public Health and Welfare (November 1, 1967).

August 16, 1968

National Eye Institute was established when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-489. The new NIH institute was the first government organization solely dedicated to research on human visual diseases and disorders. NEI officially began operations on December 26, 1968, and the National Advisory Eye Council met for the first time on April 3, 1969.

  • April 3-4, 1969

    First meeting of the NEI National Advisory Eye Council is held.

  • January 11, 1970

    Dr. Carl Kupfer appointed NEI Director.

  • December 15, 1970

    Reorganization of the NEI resulted in the formation of an Office of Biometry and Epidemiology; an Office of the Director of Intramural Research; the Laboratory of Vision Research; and a Clinical Branch.

  • April 1975

    Publication of the National Advisory Eye Council's report, Vision Research Program Planning, was the first comprehensive assessment of major needs and opportunities in vision research in the United States.

  • April 1, 1976

    Results from the Diabetic Retinopathy Study proved that laser treatment is effective for treating diabetic retinopathy.

  • April 1978

    Publication of the National Advisory Eye Council's 5-year plan, Vision Research: 1978-1982, which included review and analysis of vision research and research training in the United States and discussion of future priorities.

  • September 1978

    The Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research was established within the intramural research program.

  • June 1981

    The Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology was established within the intramural research program.

  • May 1983

    The National Advisory Eye Council's second 5-year plan, Vision Research-A National Plan 1983-1987, recommended future NEI programs.

  • July 19, 1984

    The Office of Biometry and Epidemiology was transferred out of the Office of the Director and established as the Biometry and Epidemiology Program within the Intramural Research Program; now the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications.

  • August 1985

    An intramural research program reorganization of the Laboratory of Vision Research created the Laboratories of Mechanisms of Ocular Diseases; Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology; and Immunology.

  • 1987

    The National Advisory Eye Council's Vision Research-A National Plan: 1983-1987 and 1987 Evaluation and Update, discussed accomplishments since the 1983-1987 plan was published, evaluated the status of NEI-supported research activities, and revised priorities for the next 2 years.

  • December 1987

    The Collaborative Clinical Vision Research Branch was established to provide overall scientific management and administration for NEI grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements supporting clinical trials and epidemiologic studies.

  • March 1988

    Results from the Cryotherapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity Study proved that freeze treatment reduces blindness in premature infants.

  • February 1989

    The Office of International Program Activities was created to enhance coordination of NEI's international activities, particularly those relating to cooperation with nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and the international components of other federal agencies.

  • October 1989

    Results from the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study provided further evidence that laser treatment is highly effective in treating diabetic retinopathy.

  • December 1989

    Results from the Fluorouracil Filtering Surgery Study proved that fluorouracil improves glaucoma surgery outcome.

  • February 10, 1990

    The Ophthalmic Genetics and Clinical Services Branch (now Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch) was established in the intramural research program.

  • December 1990

    Results from the Glaucoma Laser Trial proved that laser therapy shows promise as an alternative to glaucoma drugs.

  • October 1991

    Results from the Foscarnet and Ganciclovir Study showed that patients with AIDS treated for cytomegalovirus retinitis with foscarnet lived longer than those who received the standard treatment of ganciclovir.

  • December 1991

    The NEI established the National Eye Health Education Program, following Congressional directive that NEI increase its commitment to the prevention of blindness through public and professional education programs that encourage early detection and timely treatment of glaucoma and diabetic eye disease.

  • February 1992

    Results from the Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial proved that oral corticosteroids alone were found ineffective for optic neuritis.

  • October 1992

    Results from the Collaborative Corneal Transplantation Study proved that patient donor blood type matching improves corneal transplantation outcome.

  • March 1993

    The Early Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy Study 5-year follow-up showed that current treatment for diabetic retinopathy is 95 percent effective in maintaining vision.

  • Spring 1993-Spring 1995

    A “Celebration of Vision Research” commemorated the NEI's 25th anniversary.

  • June 1993

    The NEI and its advisory body, the National Advisory Eye Council, produced and distributed its fifth long-range plan, Vision Research-A National Plan: 1994-1998, that contained policy recommendations and scientific program priorities.

  • June 1993

    Results from the Retinitis Pigmentosa Study reported most adults with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) should take a daily 15,000 IU vitamin A palmitate supplement.

  • December 1993

    The Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial found that corticosteroids for optic neuritis lowers risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

  • October 1994

    Ten-year results released from the Radial Keratotomy (RK) Study found that RK remained a reasonably safe and effective technique to improve distance vision.

  • December 1994

    Results from the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis Study reported that a new drug-releasing device was effective in treating CMV retinitis in people with AIDS.

  • February 1995

    The Ischemic Optic Neuropathy Decompression Trial was haulted when results found eye surgery was ineffective for optic neuropathy and may be harmful.

  • October 1995

    Results from the Endophthalmitis Vitrectomy Study found that vitrectomy surgery is not necessary for three-fourths of patients who develop an intraocular bacterial infection called endophthalmitis.

  • December 1995

    Seven year follow up results from the Glaucoma Laser Trial found that laser therapy is a safe and effective alternative to eye drops as a first-line treatment for patients with newly diagnosed primary open-angle glaucoma.

  • January 1996

    Results from the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis Retreatment Trial found that a combination of two antiviral drugs is more effective than either drug alone for controlling recurrences of CMV retinitis in people with AIDS.

  • April 1996

    Five and a half year follow up results from the Cryotherapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity Study confirmed that cryotherapy applied to the eyes of premature babies helps save their sight.

  • August 1996

    The Monoclonal Antibody Cytomegalovirus Retinitis Trial was stopped when the drug, MSL 109 did not slow the progression of CMV retinitis.

  • May 1997

    Results from a clinical trial found that a combination of protease inhibitors and other anti-HIV drugs used to treat people with AIDS can prevent or delay the progression of CMV retinitis.

  • May 1998

    Results from the Effects of Light Reduction on Retinopathy of Prematurity have determined that light reduction has no effect on the development of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) in low birth weight infants.

  • June 1998

    Results from the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study found that the survival rates for two alternative treatments for primary eye cancer–radiation therapy and removal of the eye–are about the same.

  • June 1998

    The NEI and National Advisory Eye Council produced and distributed Vision Research-A National Plan: 1999-2003, that contained policy recommendations and scientific program priorities. In developing this five-year plan, the NEI and its advisory council assembled panels of over 100 experts representing each of NEI's formal programs and special interest areas. In drafting this plan, special consideration was given to the purpose, intent, and requirements of the Government Performance and Review Act.

  • July 1998

    Results from the Advanced Glaucoma Intervention Study found that blacks with advanced glaucoma benefit more from a regimen that begins with laser surgery and whites benefit more from one that begins with an operation called a trabeculectomy.

  • July 1998

    Results from the Herpetic Eye Disease Study found that an antiviral drug, often used to suppress genital herpes, also decreases the recurrence of herpes of the eye.

  • October 19, 1999

    The NEI launched the Low Vision Education Program, part of the National Eye Health Education Program.

  • 2000

    The NEI was designated the lead agency for a new focus area on vision in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 initiative.

  • February 2000

    Researchers found that modest supplemental oxygen given to premature infants with moderate cases of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) may not significantly improve ROP, but definitely does not make it worse.

  • July 15, 2000

    Carl Kupfer, M.D., stepped aside after 30 years as director of the NEI. Jack A. McLaughlin, Ph.D., is named acting director, NEI.

  • June 17, 2001

    Paul A. Sieving, M.D, Ph.D., assumes duties as director, NEI.

  • October 12, 2001

    Results from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its associated vision loss.

  • February 14, 2002

    100th meeting of the National Advisory Eye Council was held.

  • March 2002

    Results from the Amblyopia Treatment Study found that atropine eye drops given once a day to treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, work as well as the standard treatment of patching one eye.

  • June 2002

    Results from the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study discovered that eye drops used to treat elevated pressure inside the eye can be effective in delaying the onset of glaucoma.

  • October 2002

    Results from the Early Manifest Glaucoma Trial found that immediately treating people who have early stage glaucoma can delay progression of the disease.

  • May 2003

    Researchers found that patching the unaffected eye of children with moderate amblyopia for two hours daily works as well as patching the eye for six hours.

  • October 2003

    The NEI published and released its National Plan for Eye and Vision Research, the first strategic plan produced through a new, two-phase planning process. This ongoing planning process involves the assessment of important areas in eye and vision research and the development of new goals and objectives that address outstanding needs and opportunities for additional progress. Workshops, conferences, or symposia in critical or emerging areas of science are conducted during the second phase of the planning process to explore how they might be applied to diseases of the eye and disorders of vision.

  • December 2003

    Results from the Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Study demonstrated that premature infants, who are at the highest risk for developing vision loss from retinopathy of prematurity, will retain better vision when therapy is administered in the early stage of the disease.

  • June 2004

    In a follow up study from the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study, researchers reported eye drops that reduce elevated pressure inside the eye can delay or possibly prevent the onset of glaucoma in African Americans at higher risk for developing the disease.

  • August 2004

    Results from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study, the largest, most comprehensive epidemiological analysis of visual impairment in Latinos conducted in the U.S., found that Latinos had high rates of eye disease and visual impairment.

  • November 2004

    Results from the Submacular Surgery Trials indicated that vision does not improve substantially for patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) who underwent surgery to remove lesions of new blood vessels, scar tissue, or possible bleeding beneath the retina.

  • March 2005

    Results from four studies identified a gene that is strongly associated with a person's risk for developing age-related macular degeneration.

  • April 2005

    Researchers show that many children age seven through 17 with amblyopia (lazy eye) may benefit from treatments that are more commonly used on younger children.

  • August 2005

    NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni and Dr. Maharaj K. Bahn, Secretary, of the Department of Biotechnology, India, signs a United States-India Statement of Intent for Collaboration on Expansion of Vision Research.

  • May 2006

    A clinical trial concluded that a single dose of azithromycin taken by mouth after surgery reduces by one-third the recurrence of a vision-threatening eyelid condition called trichiasis.

  • September 2006

    The National Ophthalmic Disease Genotyping and Phenotyping Network (eyeGENE®) was created by the NEI to foster research into the genetic causes of ophthalmic disorders by broadening patient and family access to genetic diagnostic testing and by maintaining a national repository of genetic samples from highly characterized individuals.

  • November 2006

    Results from the Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Prevention Trial indicated that low-intensity laser is ineffective in preventing complications of AMD or loss of vision.

  • September 2007

    The Neurobiology-Neurodegeneration and Repair Laboratory was established in the intramural program.

  • July 2008

    Researchers found that a promising new drug therapy used to treat diabetic macular edema proved less effective than traditional laser treatments.

  • September 2008

    Results from the phase I clinical trial for gene therapy found that three young adults with Leber congenital amaurosis–a severe degenerative disease of the retina caused by a mutation in the RPE65 gene-reported improvements in vision after undergoing a specialized gene transfer procedure.

  • October 2008

    Results from the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial found that approximately 75 percent of patients with convergence insufficiency who received in-ofice therapy by a trained therapist plus at-home treatment reported fewer and less severe symptoms related to reading and other near work.

  • August 2009

    Three young adults who received gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis remained healthy and maintained previous visual gains one year later (see September 2008).

  • September 2009

    Scientists found that laser therapy is equivalent to two different dosages of corticosteroid medications for treating vision loss from the blockage of small veins in the back of the eye, a condition known as branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO).

  • September 2009

    Researchers have identified the first long-term, effective treatment to improve vision and reduce vision loss associated with blockage of large veins in the eye.

  • April 2010

    A large genetic study of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) identified three new genes associated with this blinding eye disease-two involved in the cholesterol pathway

  • April 2010

    Researchers have shown that ranibizumab eye injections, often in combination with laser treatment, result in better vision than laser treatment alone for diabetes-associated swelling of the retina.

  • April 2010

    Long-term results of the Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity study confirmed that the visual benefit of early treatment for selected infants continues through six years of age.

  • May 2010

    Results from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES) found that Latinos have higher rates of developing visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease, and cataracts than non-Hispanic whites.

  • June 2010

    Results from the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) Eye Study (ACCORD) study found that in adults with type 2 diabetes, two therapies may slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

  • April 2011

    Researchers report results from the first year of a two-year clinical trial Comparison of AMD Treatments Trials (CATT) that Avastin, a drug approved to treat some cancers and that is commonly used off-label to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is effective as the approved drug Lucentis for the treatment of AMD.

  • April 2011

    NEI Comparison of AMD Treatments Trials (CATT) reports Avastin (bevacizumab) and Lucentis (ranibizumab) are equally effective in treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

  • August 2011

    An NEI-funded clinical trial comparing an intraocular implant with systemic treatment for inflammatory eye disease uveitis shows the two treatments are equally effective.

  • NEI releases data from largest pediatric eye study; estimates prevalence of vision disorders among preschool children in three ethnic groups and identifies risk factors.
  • June 2012

    NEI signs research and training agreement with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) to study ocular immunology:

  • August 2012

    The NEI issues its Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation as part of a new government-wide effort to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation's most pressing challenges using prize competitions. The NEI Audacious Goals Initiative is an expansion of the institute's strategic planning that aims to forge new approaches to persistent challenges in vision research.

  • August 2012

    NEI published Vision Research: Needs, Gaps, and Opportunities, its most recent compilation of panel reports that describes highlights of progress, current needs, and opportunities in all six major NEI program areas: retinal diseases; corneal diseases; lens and cataract; glaucoma and optic neuropathies; strabismus, amblyopia, and visual processing; and low vision and blindness rehabilitation. This compilation, issued every five to seven years, represents the work of hundreds of scientists, clinicians, and stakeholders involved in vision research.

  • February 2013

    With support from the NEI, the Argus II becomes the first retinal prosthesis (bionic eye) approved by the FDA for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa.

  • February 2013

    NEI held its Audacious Goals Development Meeting, where winners of the NEI Audacious Goals Challenge presented their ideas, and where roughly 200 vision researchers, patient advocates, ophthalmologists, and optometrists from the U.S. and abroad discussed the ideas for further expansion, development, and refinement. A single audacious goal and two high priority research areas emerged from this meeting. The audacious goal is to regenerate neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system, and the two high priority research areas are 1) molecular therapy for eye disease and 2) the intersection of aging and biological mechanisms of eye disease.

  • March 2013

    NEI-funded consortium reports the discovery of seven new genetic risk factors for age-related macular degeneration.

  • May 2013

    NEI study provides clarity on supplements for protection against age-related macular degeneration.

  • July 2013

    As part of the Audacious Goal Initiative, a funding opportunity announcement is posted for the high priority research area focusing on molecular therapy for eye disease: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-13-283.html.

  • August 2013

    As part of the Audacious Goal Initiative, a funding opportunity announcement is posted for the high priority research area focusing on the intersection of aging and biological mechanisms of eye disease: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-13-332.html

  • September 2013

    NEI clinical trial finds that extended daily eye patching is effective at treating stubborn amblyopia in children.

  • November 2013

    NEI-funded study finds donor age not a factor in most corneal transplants.

  • April 2014

    NEI clinical trial finds that an inexpensive glaucoma drug can improve vision for sufferers of idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

  • June 2014

    NEI research shows that telemedicine is an effective strategy to screen premature babies for the potentially blinding disease known as retinopathy of prematurity.

  • July 2014

    NEI and the NIH Regenerative Medicine Program co-fund project to develop induced pluripotent stem cell therapy for age-related macular degeneration.

  • February 2015

    An NEI-supported clinical trial comparing three drugs for diabetic macular edema (DME) showed that Eylea (aflibercept) provided greater visual improvement, on average, than did Avastin (bevacizumab) or Lucentis (ranibizumab) when starting vision was 20/50 or worse. Lucentis and Avastin performed similarly to Eylea when vision loss was mild: LINK

  • May 2015

    NEI funds six projects through the Audacious Goals Initiative to develop new technology to noninvasively image cells of the eye in unprecedented detail. LINK

  • August 2015

    Scientists funded by NEI report that defects in a protein called aquaporin zero could be the root cause of presbyopia, the forty-something phenomenon that makes focusing on near objects more difficult.

  • October 2015

    Researchers funded by the NEI have developed a novel mouse model for the vision disorder Leber hereditary optic neuropathy and found that they can use gene therapy to improve visual function in the mice.

  • November 2015

    Clinical trial funded by NEI shows that Lucentis (ranibizumab) is effective for proliferative diabetic retinopathy—first major advance in therapy in 40 years.

  • January 2016

    NEI researchers discover three glaucoma-related genes, increasing total number to 15.

  • July 2016

    NEI-funded mouse study is the first to show that visual stimulation helps re-wire the visual system and partially restores sight.

  • September 2016

    NEI Audacious Goals Initiative funds six teams to identify factors that influence neural regeneration.

Last Reviewed: 
December 2016