NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NEI/      

National Eye Institute: Major Programs

The NEI’s 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.

Retinal Diseases

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 retina’s 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.

Corneal Diseases

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.

Low Vision

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.


National Institutes of Health