Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

: 2012  |  Volume : 60  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 460--463

Vision-related research priorities and how to finance them

Catherine A McCarty 
 Essentia Institute of Rural Health, Research Division, Duluth, MN, USA

Correspondence Address:
Catherine A McCarty
Essentia Institute of Rural Health, East Second Street, Duluth, MN


A number of organizations have employed a consultative process with the vision community to engage relevant parties in identifying needs and opportunities for vision research. The National Eye Institute in the US and the European Commission are currently undergoing consultation to develop priorities for vision research. Once these priorities have been established, the challenge will be to identify the resources to advance these research agendas. Success rates for Federal funding for research have decreased recently in the USA, UK, and Australia. Researchers should consider various potential funding sources for their research. The universal consideration for funding is that the reason for funding should align with the mission of the funding organization. In addition to Federal research organizations that fund investigator-initiated research, other potential funding sources include nongovernmental organizations, for-profit companies, individual philanthropy, and service organizations. In addition to aligning with organizational funding priorities, researchers need to consider turn-around time and total funds available including whether an organization will cover institutional indirect costs. Websites are useful tools to find information about organizations that fund research, including grant deadlines. Collaboration is encouraged.

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McCarty CA. Vision-related research priorities and how to finance them.Indian J Ophthalmol 2012;60:460-463

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McCarty CA. Vision-related research priorities and how to finance them. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2012 [cited 2023 Mar 28 ];60:460-463
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Full Text

There are a number of organizations dedicated to research in vision-related disorders that have released plans and priorities for research. Typically, expert panels are convened to develop and review the plans, often with input from the wider scientific community. These plans and processes can serve as the foundation for any individual or organization considering vision-related research priorities.

The US National Eye Institute's (NEI) current national plan (completed in 2004) for eye and vision research includes the following programs: retinal diseases, corneal disease, lens and cataract, glaucoma and optic neuropathies, strabismus, amblyopia and visual processing, low vision and blindness rehabilitation, and eye health education. [1] These programs are designed to help the institute meet its mission to conduct and support research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight, special health problems, and other requirements of the blind.Expert program planning panels were convened to develop the program objectives and outline research priorities for the various programs.

 Research Priorities

The NEI is currently revising its national plan for eye and vision research. [2] The plan will contain three components: (1) The NEI framework for vision research, a draft of which is available containing six goals, (2) 'Vision Research in 2011,' which is expected to be released in early 2012, and (3) Ongoing planning workshops to supplement emerging needs and opportunities being identified by planning panels. Recent planning workshops have included ocular pain and sensitivity, ophthalmic genetics, advances in optical imaging and biomedical science, and ocular epidemiology. NEI solicited opinions from members of the scientific, medical, and patient communities to help shape its research agenda through a 'Request for Information,' with responses due February 1, 2011. Respondents were asked to provide suggestions on the most significant scientific discoveries in vision research since 2004 and the most significant scientific research needs, gaps, and opportunities that can be addressed by NEI.

Similarly, the European Commission is currently undertaking an open consultation process for unmet research/clinical needs in vision science and ophthalmology in Europe. [3] The consultation process was open from November 15, 2011 to December 31, 2011 and will culminate in a white book entitled 'A Vision for Horizon 2020 - A European Strategic Roadmap for Vision Research and Ophthalmology,' Stakeholders in the vision community, including scientists, clinicians, patient organizations, academic and private institutions, and companies were asked to suggest innovative research goals that they would like to get funded.

The strategic plan for 2009-2013 of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) includes six strategic objectives, with approaches and measures of success provided for each of the objectives. [4] The plan includes advocacy to develop sustainable income resources and promote VISION 2020 to eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness by the year 2020.

The International Council of Ophthalmology's Research Committee met in 2002 to develop a research agenda for the prevention of global blindness. [5] They divided research priorities into three domains research: operations research, epidemiologic risk profile, and basic biologic research. They considered research opportunities for cataract, trachoma, onchocerciasis, xerophthalmia, glaucomas, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, and refractive error. Action items to move this agenda forward included developing regional consortia to pool resources to estimate burden of disease; monitoring outcomes of interventions and sharing lessons learned; getting a consortium of scientists from wealthy and poor countries to systematically monitor new drugs and discoveries testing them for application in the developing world. A novel opportunity for collaboration was launched to facilitate collaborative research between the USA and India. [6]

The approach taken by these organizations to develop research agendas that allow for input from all relevant parties in the vision community has proven to be successful. Inherent in the development of research agendas is the need to document what is known about the biology of a given condition as well as the prevalence and incidence of disease and success of interventions. This is required in order to prioritize precious research resources. The next section outlines considerations for obtaining research funding.

 Financing Vision Research

[Figure 1]a-d demonstrate the state of funding for vision research by the NEI in the US. The actual dollars spent on vision research from FY2007 to FY2012 remained relatively constant, [7] along with the relatively constant inflation rate reflected by the consumer price index. [8] Over that same time frame, the percentage of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget allocated to eye diseases and disorders of vision fell [Figure 1]b as did the success rate for new competitive awards from NEI [Figure 1]c. [9] The success rate is approximately one in five new competing grants submitted. The number of applications for new competitive awards rose between FY2002 and FY2012 [Figure 1]d. In the UK, the success rate for research grants fell from 17% in 2009-2010 to 15% in 2010-2011. [10] Success rates for project grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia from 2005 to 2010, showed an increase for 2 years and then fell again recently (21.1%, 21.3%, 27.6%, 26.5%, 22.8%, 23.3%). [11] These data highlight the need for researchers to consider all potential sources of funding for their research.{Figure 1}

The universal consideration for funding is that the reason for funding should align with the mission of the funding organization. A statement on the preliminary grant application web site for the Macular Degeneration Foundation sums it up well-'The Foundation carefully considers all eligible applications to determine whether a project fits its current program interests and funding principles.' [12] Three current areas of focused funding are then outlined, followed by funding principles that include scientific merit, achievability and real world applicability. Researchers need to ensure that a potential funding agency would be interested in funding their area of research.

The first considerations when looking for research funding are likely to be the amount of funding available and whether institutional indirect charges or administrative overheads are allowable grant expenses. This is because some institutions do not allow scientists to apply for grants where these costs are not allowed.Turn-around time from application to funding availability may also be an important consideration when considering possible funding sources. These issues are summarized for various funding sources in [Table 1] and are discussed in more detail below.{Table 1}

 Federal Government

The majority of research and development is funded by private industry but Federal grants and contracts remain the primary source of research funding for many academic researchers. As shown earlier, the success rates for research funding from the NEI in the US, the Medical Research Council in the UK, and the NHRMC in Australia have fallen in recent years.Researchers should check the web sites of these funding organizations for grant submission deadlines, funding priorities and any restrictions, such as country of residence. The NEI will fund research that takes places outside the US Professional associations, such as the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, often offer grant writing sessions at their annual meetings. New investigators should take advantage of these opportunities.

 Nongovernmental Organizations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are very heterogeneous groups, but share a vision and passion for improving their communities or the world in relation to a specific concern, such as glaucoma or blindness. They tend to rely heavily on volunteers and fund-raising to support their missions. Depending on the type of NGO, some of these funds are disbursed as grants to researchers. A summary of some of the NGOs that fund vision research is contained in [Table 2]. The list includes the research on disorders that they fund, and NGOs that fund projects outside the US. As highlighted in [Table 1], NGOs generally do not cover institutional indirect costs but can have a much shorter turn-around time from grant application to receipt of funding. Their websites provide information about their funding priorities and timelines.{Table 2}

 For-profit Organizations

For-profit organizations such as device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies have research and development budgets. They seek research collaborators to evaluate their products and they occasionally fund external investigator-initiated projects. For instance, Pfizer Inc. has a global investigator-initiated research program. [13] Types of research that are eligible for support include clinical studies involving Pfizer drugs, observational studies such as epidemiology or outcomes studies.Other types of research on diseases states that include novel diagnostic tools where Pfizer has no direct commercial interest and in-vitro or animal studies are also eligible. Information is available on the Pfizer web site and interested researchers are advised to contact Pfizer representatives. Pfizer also has a Competitive Grant Programs with specific research criteria and timelines; again, information is available on their website. The Alcon Research Institute (ARI), established in 1981, is a virtual institute that honors outstanding ophthalmic researchers through a symposium and unrestricted research grants. [14] Awardees are nominated by members of the institute. ARI also funds eight Young Investigator grants annually. Details are available on the ARI website.

 Individual Philanthropy

Most nonprofit research institutions receive some funding from donors for their nonprofit mission. Larger organizations may have development departments. Researchers can work with their development officers to help prepare the case to receive the support of specific research programs or projects. Again, it is important to align the interest of the donors with the needs of the researchers.

 Service Organizations

Service organizations, such as Lions Clubs International and Rotary International, are committed to improving their communities. They provide volunteer time and small grants to research projects with a generally very fast turn-around time. The Lions Eye Health Program, in conjunction with the NEI, is a community-based education program to promote healthy vision. [15] While websites contain some information about the priorities of service organizations, a call or visit to a local chapter is the best way to determine if a specific research project is a good match to the service organization. Local chapters regularly look for speakers for their meetings; this is a good opportunity to raise the level of interest in vision research in the community.


Well established processes exist to develop and update national and international priorities for vision research. With the number of grant applications increasing and the pay lines generally decreasing, applicants need to be sure that their funding requests are well matched to the vision and mission of the funding organization. Collaboration is encouraged between senior and junior investigators and between researchers in developed and developing countries. As can be inferred from reading the reference list in this manuscript, there is a lot of information available on web sites about potential funding sources, grant deadlines, and other necessary information for grant seekers. Researchers are advised to check web sites regularly for updated information and to sign up for email updates and newsletters from funding organizations, where available.


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