NEI director Dr. Paul Sieving gives an “audacious goals” charge for innovative research.
President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, challenge to Congress and the nation helped launch a man to the moon and spurred major advances in science and engineering. The National Eye Institute is now considering its own “moonshot.” This past February, NEI called together a group of about 200 scientists, physicians, engineers, venture capitalists and philanthropists to help look into the future and identify bold and innovative directions in vision research—what the institute refers to as Audacious Goals.
“Given the remarkable tools of biology developed during the past decade, can we leverage collective action to accomplish something big and remarkable over the next 10, 12 or 15 years? Can we imagine doing something that would not happen on its own without coordinated action?” asked NEI director Dr. Paul Sieving, in his charge to participants at the start of the recent meeting held at the Bolger Center in nearby Potomac, Md. “We are here at the Audacious Goals Development Meeting to give rational, balanced thought on how to proceed.”
“The idea, here, is to have a bold vision for vision,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who helped frame the meeting in his remarks before the group. “I think this is a wonderful idea that Paul, colleagues and the National Advisory Eye Council have come up with to really challenge the field to think beyond the usual next-steps approach into something longer term and potentially revolutionary.” Collins went on to say that the vision community has played a large part in advancing biomedical research, noting recent breakthroughs in population genetics, stem cells and gene therapy.
The meeting was part of the Audacious Goals Initiative that NEI is conducting to stimulate innovation and set priorities within the vision research community. NEI launched the initiative in August 2012 with a request for public input and a cash prize competition. In fall 2012, nearly 500 people from around the country submitted ideas through the challenge. After de-identification of the one-page submissions, a group of 80 scientists from across the country winnowed these to the top 80 entries. A panel of federal scientists reviewed the top entries and named 10 winners.
The 10 winning ideas were categorized into six broad topics for participants to discuss at the meeting. After nearly 2 days of facilitated brainstorming, the participants proposed the following goals:
Eliminate age-related eye disease; preserve and restore vision for patients affected by many forms of eye disease through the delivery and modification of genetic information; develop a comprehensive systems-based model of vision; develop comprehensive maps of visual function in health and disease; restore sight by regeneration of the neural retina; restore useful vision to people who are blind due to retinal disease, using prosthetics, optogenetics or small molecules.
With help from its advisory council, NEI is now weighing the proposed goals and other ideas generated from the meeting as it establishes a final set of audacious goals and strategies and begins to set them in motion.
For more information about the initiative, visit www.nei.nih.gov/agmeeting/.— Dustin Hays