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Home » Grants and Funding » National Eye Institute Programs and Research Priorities

Programs and Research Priorities

The research projects supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI) address the leading causes of blindness and impaired vision in the United States. The NEI supports a broad range of basic and clinical research, clinical trials and other epidemiologic studies, and research training and career development in the sciences related to vision.

There are many examples of research areas of overlapping scientific interest between the NEI and other NIH Institutes and Centers. For example, diabetic retinopathy may be of interest to both the NEI and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases. And studies of the fetal alcohol system may be of interest to both NEI and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Usually, NEI is given primary assignment when the emphasis is on visual function or a visual system disease. Primary assignment is given to another awarding unit when the eye or visual system is to be used only as a convenient model system for research on more general biological properties, or when functions of the eye or the visual system are being monitored as only one of many organs or systems. In the area of ocular tumors, for example, NEI is particularly interested in research projects that may lead to a better understanding of normal visual system development or function. NCI receives primary assignment when the main research emphasis is on more general biological properties of tumors such as metastasis, angiogenesis, or neovascularization.

The NEI frequently supports studies using those model organisms and model systems which are readily applicable to understanding problems in human vision. But potential applicants should be aware that, in general, NEI does not fund studies of phototropism, invertebrate light-gathering proteins, bacteriorhodopsin, or Chlamydomonas.

A detailed description of NEI program priorities and funding policies is contained in the site This page describes the planning process and contains the current Phase I NEI strategic planning document "National Plan for Eye and Vision Research". An update of the plan is presently underway.

The research objectives and opportunities given below are representative only, and are not intended to be an all-inclusive compilation of areas of interest to the NEI. Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact one of the NEI extramural program directors to discuss their research, training, or career development plans. All Division of Extramural Research staff members may be reached at 301-451-2020.

Retinal Diseases

Expand, improve and coordinate shared bioinformatics approaches and resources to analyze and annotate genetics data, including improved predications of potential pathogenicity of identified sequence variants.

Explore the role of non-Mendelian genetics, including epigenetic modifications, microRNA gene regulation, mitochondrial genetics and genetic modifier effects during development, normal aging and neurodegeneration.

Identify and better understand the potential utility of microRNAs, anti-microRNAs and other RNA-based therapeutics for the treatment of retinal vascular diseases.

Elucidate the molecular mechanisms that lead to photoreceptor degeneration, including signal transduction pathways, defects in protein folding, ciliogenesis, functional compartmentalization and trafficking. Translate these molecular footholds into therapies for Mendelian and complex diseases.

Understand and model the structure, function and circuitry of retinal neurons. This research forms the basis for interpreting tests of retinal function such as the electroretinogram and various psychophysical paradigms that are used to detect retinal diseases, monitor the progression of disease, and assess treatments.

Understand the role of innate immune responses (including the complement system) in retinal degenerative diseases, and determine how the immune system influences survival or death of retinal neurons. Develop tools and markers to identify subsets of microglia, dendritic cells, circulating myeloid cells, progenitors to establish their role in ocular immunity. Identify commonalities across different retinal degenerative diseases and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system such as Alzheimer dementia.

  Program Director:

Dr. Thomas N. Greenwell, Retinal Neuroscience, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Lisa A. Neuhold, Fundamental Retinal Processes, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Grace L. Shen, Retinal Diseases, 301-451-2020,

Corneal Diseases

  Program Director:

Dr. George Anne McKie, 301-451-2020,

Lens and Cataract

  Program Director:

Dr. Houmam Araj, 301-451-2020,

Glaucoma and Optic Neuropathies

  Program Director:

Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, 301-451-2020,

Strabismus, Amblyopia, and Visual Processing

Improve understanding of the roles of neuronal activity and molecular events in the formation of central visual circuits during development.

Develop and improve neural imaging technology and methods for combining imaging and electrophysiological data in order to improve spatial and temporal resolution in human studies and provide direct links to data from animal models.

Discover the mechanisms responsible for perceptual and motor stability during eye movements and develop strategies for using visual and oculomotor methods for diagnosing and treating visual symptoms associated with neurological disorders, mental diseases, and traumatic brain injuries.

Develop and test pharmacological and behavioral methods for induction and improvement of plasticity in adults. Translate the basic science of plasticity into effective treatments for strabismus, amblyopia, and other disorders involving central visual processes.

Evaluate the efficacy of potential treatments for delaying the onset or for slowing the progression of myopia, such as lenses that alter peripheral defocus, pharmaceutical approaches, or behavioral methods that harness the beneficial effects of more time outdoors.

  Program Directors:

Dr. Houmam Araj, Oculomotor Systems and Neuro-Ophthalmology, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Michael A. Steinmetz, Development and Regeneration of Central visual Pathways, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Cheri Wiggs, Perception and Psychophysics, 301-451-2020,

Low Vision and Blindness Rehabilitation

  Program Director:

Dr. Cheri Wiggs, 301-451-2020,

Ocular Genetics

The study of genetic factors which underlie structure, function, and disease susceptibility is common to all scientific programs of the NEI. Therefore, the large-scale projects which employ a common genetic technology have been organized into an over-arching grant portfolio. The program director not only manages these extramural grants but also serves as Associate Director of the NEI, with a liaison role in integrating and stimulating the development of NEI intramural/extramural ocular genetics resources.

  Program Director:

Dr. Hemin R. Chin, 301-451-2020,

Ocular Infection, Inflammation, and Immunology

The study of immunologic, inflammatory, and infectious processes which underlie disease pathogenesis and susceptibility is common to all scientific programs of the NEI. Therefore, projects which focus on research in these areas have been organized into an over-arching grant portfolio.

  Program Director:

Dr. George A. McKie, 301-451-2020,

Ocular Pain

All aspects of research on ocular pain are organized into an over-arching grant portfolio:

  Program Director:

Dr. Houmam Araj, 301-451-2020,

Myopia and Refractive Error

These topics span several of the scientific programs of the NEI, and research in these areas has been organized into a single over-arching grant portfolio:

  Program Director:

Dr. Jerome R. Wujek, 301-451-2020,

Collaborative Clinical Research

The NEI supports single center and multi center clinical trials and other epidemiologic and health services research. Collectively, these projects are directed toward furthering knowledge about the predictors for and natural history of visual system diseases and disorders and developing better prevention and management strategies for these conditions.

Program Directors:
Mr. Donald F. Everett, Clinical Trials, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Steven R. Oversby, Collaborative Clinical Research, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Maryann Redford, Collaborative Clinical Research, 301-451-2020,
Dr. Eleanor B. Schron, Clinical Applications, 301-451-2020,

Center Core Grants

The NEI supports P30 Center Core Grants which provide resource modules for institutions with more than eight eligible NEI grants

  Program Director:

Dr. Ellen S. Liberman, 301-451-2020,

Small Business Research

The NEI supports both the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) (R43, R44) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) programs. Proposals may address any topic in vision research, see for further details.

  Program Director:

Dr. Jerome R. Wujek, 301-451-2020,

Training Officer

This individual coordinates all research training programs which address any topic in vision research. This includes serving as the contact point for information.

Program Director:

Dr. Neeraj Agarwal, 301-451-2020,

Research Resources Officer

This individual coordinates resource issues which affect all the programs of the NEI. This includes serving as the contact point for Research Supplements and R13/U13 Conference Grants.

Program Director:

Dr. Jerome R. Wujek, 301-451-2020,

Last Updated: January 2013

Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health