NEI is one of 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health, a component of the Department of Health and Human Services. NEI is the principal U.S. government agency that supports vision research, both in its own labs and in universities and research facilities throughout the U.S. and around the world. NEI has the responsibility of establishing a national agenda for vision research. Since NEI was established over 40 years ago, it has conducted strategic planning activities culminating in a series of national plans and workshop reports that identify needs and opportunities in vision research. These planning efforts have relied primarily on the expertise of NEI-funded investigators to review the state of the science and describe current specific research needs and opportunities.
The current NEI strategic planning effort consists of three phases:
- Phase I: (Completed). Reports of six NEI-assembled panels of experts in vision research are compiled in a document entitled, Vision Research: Needs, Gaps, and Opportunities.
- Phase II: This Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation invites submissions of audacious goals. Winners of this challenge will present their goals at the NEI Audacious Goals Development Meeting of vision research stakeholders. The NEI and the National Advisory Eye Council will then select the most compelling audacious goals for the national vision research agenda and to motivate funding agencies in the United States and worldwide to stimulate research efforts to address these goals. The NEI seeks broad and diverse input not only from vision researchers and other biomedical and scientific research communities, but also more widely from all interested individuals. Fresh ideas and approaches are expected to energize research efforts, increase public awareness of vision research, and make important contributions to planning that will enhance our effort to reduce the burden of ocular disorders and diseases worldwide. The creativity arising from a variety of new perspectives is expected to generate new research avenues and approaches.
- Phase III: NEI will develop an implementation plan that will outline how the NEI priorities, programs, and operations will address the needs, gaps and opportunities identified in Phase I of the strategic planning process and the newly identified audacious goals.
The following historical examples are presented to provide a sense of what is meant by “audacious goals.” These were, or would have been big, bold ideas at that time. Each of these examples required multiple components and advances in a variety of areas. The NEI mission encompasses a variety of areas including basic and clinical research, epidemiology, diagnostics, information dissemination, technology development, training, and education and awareness of the special health problems caused by visual impairment. We invite audacious goals that contribute to NEI’s mission.
- An audacious goal in 1997 would have been to develop gene therapy to cure an inherited form of childhood blindness in less than 10 years.
The first genetic mutations causing Lebers Congenital Amaurosis, a rare form of inherited childhood blindness, were identified in 1997. Multiple research groups then worked on developing gene therapy to treat this form of LCA, leading to the start of human clinical trials in 2007 and reports of success from three groups in 2008.
- An audacious goal in 1990 would have been to develop imaging techniques to view the microscopic structures of a living human eye to aid the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Correcting telescope images for the blurring from turbulent atmosphere was first conceived in 1953 and applied successfully by the late 1980s. The technology was developed because the Department of Defense needed to view satellites from ground-based telescopes, but atmospheric turbulence distorted the images. Similarly, doctors could not see the microscopic structures in the back of the eye because their view was blurred by the optics of the patient’s eye. The technology developed for astronomy was modified to view the back of the eye, and successful use of this approach allowed visualization of the main light-sensing cells in retina, the cone photoreceptors, in 1999 by Roorda and Williams.
- An audacious goal in 1986 was to sequence the entire human genome in 15 years.
The Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health officially began the Human Genome Initiative in 1990. Important requirements at the time included enhancing sequencing and analytic technologies as well as computational resources to support future research and commercial applications, exploring gene function through mouse-human comparisons, studying human variation, and training future scientists in genomics. This required multiple approaches, labs, and expertise. A draft of the human genome was reported in 2000 and a complete genome was announced in 2003.
Contacting Challenge Winners and Displaying Winner’s Information and Entry:
Using information provided in the Audacious Goal Form, winners will be notified by email, telephone, or mail after the judging is completed. Winner’s names, hometown, state, and their audacious goal description will also be posted on the Challenge Web site www.nei.nih.gov/challenge.
Intellectual Property Rights:
By participating in this Challenge, each Contestant grants to NEI an irrevocable, paid-up, royalty-free, nonexclusive worldwide license to post, share, and publicly display the Contestant’s audacious goal description on the Web, newsletters or pamphlets, and other informational products. Each Contestant understands and agrees that if his/her entry is selected as a winning entry, it will be discussed and refined at the NEI Audacious Goals Development Meeting early in 2013 and may ultimately assist NEI in its prioritization of research goals or funding for research funding.
NEI reserves the right to cancel, suspend, and/or modify the Competition for any reason, at NEI’s sole discretion.