Research supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI), funded with taxpayer dollars and conducted at academic institutions across the county, is resulting in breakthroughs that save sight and restore vison for both common and rare eye diseases. What were “untreatable” blinding eye diseases 50 years ago —including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy — are now managed through drug and medical device therapies that have emerged from NEI-funded research. One such example is the eye drops used by glaucoma patients to reduce pressure in the eye.  

New advances

Taking advantage of major scientific advances in the fields of gene discovery, regenerative medicine and restore vision. In a first-ever NEI clinical trial of its kind, a patient’s own blood cells are being used to generate tissue to replace a specialized protective layer in the light-sensitive part of the eye. That tissue will then be implanted into patients with AMD with the goal of saving dying light-sensing cells and vision.    

In public opinion polls conducted over the past 50 years, Americans consistently rank blindness as their first or second most important healthcare concern.

 

This research investment is critical, as vision impairment is a growing public health problem driven by three major factors: aging of the population, greater risk and incidence of eye disease in minority populations and impact on vision from chronic diseases. The NEI predicts that, by year 2020, more than 50 million Americans will be blind, have low vision or get an age-related eye disease. Economists have estimated that eye disease engenders a current annual total economic burden of approximately $145 billion, with that growing to $717 billion annually in inflation-adjusted dollars by year 2050.  

A growing fear

In public opinion polls conducted over the past 50 years, Americans consistently rank blindness as their first or second most important healthcare concern. When asked, they express fear of the loss of independence and diminished quality of life. One study has even shown that patients with diabetes going blind or experiencing vision loss would be willing to trade years of remaining life to regain perfect vision.

 

Given the enormous impact of vision loss on both quality of life for individuals and societal cost, the potential gains from sight-saving research supported by the NEI are immeasurable. Here’s to 50 more years of groundbreaking discoveries towards the preservation and restoration of vision.