NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NEI/
National Eye Institute: Major Programs
The NEIs extramural research activities are organized into seven areas: retinal
diseases; corneal diseases; lens and cataract; glaucoma; strabismus, amblyopia, and visual
processing; low vision and its rehabilitation; and collaborative clinical research.
NEI-supported investigations include studies of the development, molecular and cell
biology, molecular genetics, and metabolism of the photoreceptor cells and their
dependence on the underlying retinal pigment epithelium; the mechanism of the
retinas response to light and the initial processing of information that is
transmitted to the visual centers of the brain; the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy;
the pathogenesis and etiology of uveitis; the molecular biology and genetics of
retinoblastoma and ocular melanoma; the molecular characterization of the genes
responsible for retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and related
disorders; and, the cellular and molecular events that accompany retinal detachment.
NEI-supported projects include studies of the regulation of genes that express proteins
unique to corneal tissue; details of the assembly of corneal extracellular matrices;
mechanisms that maintain corneal hydration and transparency; physiologic basis for immune
privilege in the cornea; cell biology of corneal wound healing; corneal biomechanics; and
the pathogenesis of corneal transplant rejection.
Lens and Cataract
NEI-supported research includes studies of normal lens development and aging; the
molecular and cellular characterization of those components which maintain the
transparency and proper shape of the lens; control of lens cell division; structure and
regulation of the expression of lens-specific genes; the impact of oxidative insult on the
lens; and the role of aldose reductase in human cataractogenesis.
NEI supports a range of research designed to better understand the basic pathology
underlying glaucoma, the discovery of drugs and surgical techniques for its treatment, and
the development of procedures for earlier diagnosis. Studies include the identification
and characterization of genes involved in the development of glaucoma, elucidation of the
role of aqueous humor outflow in the patho-physiology of the disease, the delineation of
the basic mechanisms that control aqueous humor dynamics, the design of better drugs to
modulate aqueous humor secretion and outflow, clarification of the relationship between
pressure elevation and optic nerve damage, characterization of optic nerve damage and
ganglion cell death at the anatomical and functional levels.
Strabismus, Amblyopia, & Visual Processing
The NEI supports studies concerned with the function of the neural pathways from the
eye to the brain, the central processing of visual information, visual perception, the
optical properties of the eye, the function of the pupil, and control of the ocular
muscles. Support is provided for research on optic neuropathies, eye movement disorders,
and the development of myopia. Particular emphasis is placed on studies of strabismus and
amblyopia, as these are frequent causes of lifelong visual impairment.
The NEI supports research in low vision and rehabilitation of people with visual
impariments. Examples include projects aimed at improving the methods of specifying,
measuring, and categorizing loss of visual function; devising strategies to help visually
impaired people maximize the use of their residual vision; systematically evaluating new
and existing visual aids; developing an adequate epidemiological base for blindness,
partial loss of sight and visual anomalies; and studying the optical, electronic, and
other rehabilatative needs of people with visual impairments.
Collaborative Clinical Research
The institute supports a number of randomized, single- and multicenter clinical trials
and other epidemiologic research projects utilizing cross-sectional, case-control, and
cohort methodologies. Several funded projects incorporate health services and genetic
epidemiologic approaches to studying conditions affecting the visual system. The
collective goal of these collaborative clinical research projects is to understand the
natural history, pathogenesis, management, and prevention of visual system disorders.