The National Eye Institute, an NIH agency dedicated to vision research, recently announced the winners of their Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation, or the Audacious Goals Challenge for short. The competition was open to professionals and members of the public and called upon them to think big and bold about vision research goals for the next decades. The prize money was nominal ($3,000) but included an invitation and travel money to attend and present their ideas at the NEI Audacious Goals Development Meeting in Maryland later this month. The real prize, of course, was the opportunity to help set research and funding goals for the next 10-12 years. Of the 500 or so proposals submitted, 10 visionaries were selected as winners.
[A laboratory scientist prepares a human eye for research. Courtesy of the NEI]
We're not sure whether to be disappointed or reassured, but all ten challenge winners are leaders in vision research at major US research universities and institutes with either a PhD, MD or MD/PhD. Almost all are already engaged in the research outlined in their winning proposals. The NEI news release states that half the entries were from individuals who had never received NIH funding before. The proposals were supposedly anonymized, but nevertheless the usual brilliant suspects won out. Of course with $602M+ funding a year, the NEI has obviously been selective in choosing just these 10 as the likely leaders of the next generation of research. That they are known and respected investigators says that we seem to already be on the right path with regard to federal support. Whether these proposals are truly audacious in light of the well-established reputations and august affiliations of these scientists is another matter. New directions do not seem to be mapped out so much as ongoing research is being recognized for its forward-thinking, long-range value and promise. Significant future funding is almost assured.
The winners of the NEI Audacious Goals Challenge and their projects, listed geographically west to east by institutional affiliation are:
- Russell Van Gelder, UW Seattle, Chair, Dept. of Ophthalmology: Reversing Retinal Blindness Using Small Molecules
- Robert Duvoisin, OHSU, Portland, Assoc. Prof. of Physiology and Pharmacology: Restoration of Vision by Opto-electronic Stimulation
- Dennis Clegg, UC Santa Barbara, Strategic Director of the Stem Cell Biology Center and Prof. of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology: Regenerative Therapy for Retinal Disease
- Yingbin Fu, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Assist. Prof. of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences: Precise Gene Editing In Vivo
- Rajesh C. Rao, Washington University St. Louis, vitreoretinal surgery fellow, Dept. of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences: An Audacious Goal: Reprogramming the Retina
- Steven Pittler, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Prof. in the Dept. of Vision Sciences: Using Molecular Scissors Genome Editing to Cure Ocular Genetic Disease
- Tonia Rex, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Assist. Prof. Vanderbilt Eye Institute: Functional and Structural Neuroregeneration
- Julia Richards, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Prof. of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences: Fountains of Youth for the Eye
- Jeffrey Stern, Capital Region Retina, PLLC, Albany, N.Y., researcher and clinician: Endogenous Retinal Repair: Releasing our Inner Salamander
- Janey Wiggs, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Assoc. Chief at Mass. Eye and Ear: Vision BioBank - A Network of Ocular Phenotyping Centers Using Genomic and Epidemiologic Data to Promote Personalized Ophthalmology
[A manual refractor, courtesy of the National Eye Institute]
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