2020 Vision for the Future

By NEI Acting Director Santa J. Tumminia, PhD

At the dawn of a new decade, the National Eye Institute (NEI) is formulating a strategic plan to define our research opportunities and goals for 2020 and beyond. This strategic plan, our 2020 Vision for the Future, will align with the 21st Century Cures Act and with NIH’s strategic planning efforts. Our call for public comment elicited hundreds of responses, which we are considering carefully as we chart the planning process. We expect to issue our completed strategic plan by this Fall.

National Eye Institute FY2020 Budget

The NEI received a $27.6 million budget increase for FY2020, bringing our final appropriations to $824 million. In addition to direct institute funding, Congress has targeted several areas of interest to the vision research community: $2.8 billion for Alzheimer’s Disease, $500 million each for the All of Us precision medicine program and the BRAIN initiative, $30 million big data, an increase of $50 million for the antimicrobial resistance program, and at least $500 million for towards opioids research.

Data Management and Machine Learning

The past decade has shown an explosion in the amount of data available to researchers and the number of analysis tools, including increasingly powerful machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. Some, including models that can accurately identify signs of a variety of eye diseases from fundus photographs and OCT files, as well as applications that make use of electronic medical records data, are directly relevant to vision research and improving clinical care. One limitation to leveraging the vast sources of potentially useful datasets are that they do not have overlapping focus making them not directly comparable or combinable. This makes reuse of existing data complex. In addition, scientists with an understanding of both ophthalmology or vision research and computational learning and data science are relatively rare. Along with several other government agencies, the NEI is participating in the Civic Digital Fellowship, an internship program to expose data scientists who would otherwise be recruited to Silicon Valley technology companies, to tackle complex issues in healthcare.

Anterior Segment Initiative (ASI)

The NEI is developing a new research program that will tackle difficult-to-treat diseases of the anterior segment of the eye. Parts of the eye included in this research program include the cornea, iris, ciliary body and lens. Some diseases that affect the anterior segment include dry eye, ocular pain, uveitis, and a variety of genetic conditions. The ASI will complement our existing Audacious Goals Initiative, which is focused on the back of the eye. We recently issued a request for information from researchers, clinicians, and the general public, which closed in early January. We received more than 50 responses, represented more than 200 stakeholders in anterior segment science and medicine – thank you to everyone who submitted comments! Many of the responses we received highlighted key areas for future research, as well as the need for highly collaborative science. We are incorporating ideas and information from these responses as we continue to develop the ASI.

Looking forward to seeing you in Baltimore at ARVO 2020!

Santa Tumminia, PhD, Acting Director, National Eye Institute

Santa Tumminia, PhD has served as acting director of the National Eye Institute (NEI) since July 2019. She was selected as the NEI deputy director in November 2018, providing executive leadership and scientific expertise on NEI policies and initiatives, strategic and organizational leadership, research oversight and priority setting and financial management. She has expertise in a wide range of vision research issues and has provided leadership on NIH-wide programs in genetics and genomic medicine, behavioral science, angiogenesis, nanomedicine, translational science and rare diseases. In 2019, she also temporarily assumed the role of acting NEI scientific director, managing the NEI Intramural Research Program. Tumminia earned her PhD in Biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987. In her postdoctoral training, she examined the protein-nucleic acid interactions involved in ribosome assembly at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, Department of Biochemistry, Hoffman La-Roche, Inc. Tumminia has received numerous awards including multiple NIH Director’s Awards for the NIH-wide Strategic Plan Working Group and for leading the eyeGENE® Initiative. In 2018, she received the NIH Director’s Award in Mentoring. Her efforts led to increasing the number of female tenure-track investigators in the NEI intramural program. She has also supported workplace diversity through the NEI’s Diversity in Vision Research and Ophthalmology (DIVRO) training program.