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NEI logo   National Eye Institute
Mission | Important Events | Director | Programs


The National Eye Institute (NEI) conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight, and the special health problems of individuals who are visually impaired or blind.

Vision research is supported by the NEI through research grants and training awards made to scientists at more than 250 medical centers, hospitals, universities, and other institutions across the country and around the world. The NEI also conducts laboratory and patient-oriented research at its own facilities located on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

Another part of the NEI mission is to conduct public and professional education programs that help prevent blindness; reduce visual impairment; and increase awareness of services and devices that are available for people with low vision. To meet these objectives, the NEI has established the National Eye Health Education Program, a partnership of more than 60 professional, civic, and voluntary organizations and government agencies concerned with eye health. The program represents an extension of the NEI's support of vision research, where results are disseminated to health professionals, patients, and the public.

Important Events in NEI History

August 16, 1968 - Public Law 90-489 authorized formation of the National Eye Institute.

December 26, 1968 - The National Eye Institute was established.

April 3-4, 1969 - The National Advisory Eye Council held its first meeting.

January 11, 1970 - Dr. Carl Kupfer was appointed NEI director.

December 15, 1970 - Reorganization of NEI resulted in the formation of an Office of Biometry and Epidemiology; an Office of the Director of Intramural Research; and a Laboratory of Vision Research and a Clinical Branch as the foci of intramural research.

April 1975 - Publication of the National Advisory Eye Council's report, Vision Research Program Planning, was the first comprehensive assessment of major needs and opportunities in vision research in the United States.

April 1978 - Publication of the National Advisory Eye Council's 5-year plan, Vision Research: 1978-1982, included review and analysis of vision research and research training in the United States and discussion of future priorities.

September 1978 - A Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research was established within the intramural research program.

November 1978 - Public Law 95-623, Health Services Research, Health Statistics, and Health Care Technology Act, authorized NEI to carry out a grants program for construction or renovation of public and nonprofit private vision research facilities.

June 1981 - A Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology was established within the intramural research program.

May 1983 - The National Advisory Eye Council's second 5-year plan (1983-87) recommended future NEI programs.

March 1984 - A Laboratory of Ophthalmic Pathology was established within the intramural program.

July 19, 1984 - The Office of Biometry and Epidemiology was transferred out of the Office of the Director and established as the Biometry and Epidemiology Program.

August 1985 - An Intramural Research Program reorganization abolished the Laboratory of Vision Research and created the Laboratories of Mechanisms of Ocular Diseases; Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology; and Immunology.

1987 - The National Advisory Eye Council's, Vision Research - A National Plan: 1983-1987, 1987 Evaluation and Update, discussed accomplishments since the 1983-87 plan was published, evaluated the status of NEI-supported research activities, and revised priorities for the next 2 years.

December 1987 - The Collaborative Clinical Vision Research Branch was established to provide overall scientific management and administration for NEI grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements supporting clinical trials and epidemiologic studies.

1988 - NEI's fiscal year appropriation included funds that enabled the institute to increase its commitment to the prevention of blindness through public and professional education programs and the encouragement of regular eye examinations. These education efforts are part of a National Eye Health Education Program.

February 1989 - The Office of International Program Activities was created to enhance coordination of NEI's international activities, particularly those relating to cooperation with nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and the international components of other Federal agencies.

April 7, 1989 - The Office of Planning and Reporting was renamed the Office of Science Policy and Legislation.

February 10, 1990 - The Ophthalmic Genetics and Clinical Services Branch was established in the intramural program.

June 1991 - A Laboratory of Ocular Therapeutics was established.

December 1991 - NEI launched the National Eye Health Education Program.

Spring 1993 - Spring 1995 - A "Celebration of Vision Research" commemorated the NEI's 25th anniversary.

June 1993 - The NEI and its advisory body, the National Advisory Eye Council (NAEC), produced and distributed its sixth long-range plan, Vision Research - A National Plan: 1994-1998, that contained policy recommendations and scientific program priorities. This is the latest in a series of national vision research plans that began in 1975. Over the next 5 years, NEI will monitor how closely the institute's actual program development matches the plan's recommendations.

October 17, 1995 - The NEI launched, Ojo con su vision, a diabetic eye disease program for Hispanics.

June 1998 - The NEI and National Eye Advisory Council (NAEC) produced and distributed Vision Research - A National Plan: 1999-2003, that contained policy recommendations and scientific program priorities. In developing this 5-year plan, the NEI and NAEC assembled panels of over 100 experts representing each of NEI's formal programs and special interest areas. In drafting this plan, special consideration was give to the purpose, intent, and requirements of the Government Performance and Review Act.

October 19, 1999 - The NEI launched the Low Vision Education Program, part of the National Eye Health Education Program.

2000 - NEI designated lead agency for new focus area on vision in HHS's Healthy People 2010.

July 15, 2000 - Dr. Carl Kupfer steps down after 30 years as Director of the NEI; Dr. Jack A. McLaughlin named Acting Director, NEI.

June 17, 2001 – Dr. Paul A. Sieving assumes duties as Director, NEI.

October 2003 – The NEI published and released its National Plan for Eye and Vision Research. The first strategic plan produced through the new, two-phase planning process. This ongoing planning process involves the assessment of important areas progress in eye and vision research and the development of new goals and objectives that address outstanding needs and opportunities for additional progress. Workshops, conferences, or symposia in critical or emerging areas of science are conducted during the second phase of the planning process to explore how they might be applied to diseases of the eye and disorders of vision.

Biographical Sketch of NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Sieving became director of the National Eye Institute in June 2001. He came from the University of Michigan where he was the Paul R. Lichter Professor of Ophthalmic Genetics and director of the Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. During his training, he studied nuclear physics at Yale Graduate School in 1970-73 and attended Yale Law School from 1973-74. He obtained his M.D. from the University of Illinois Medical School in 1978, and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Illinois Graduate School in 1981. Dr. Sieving did his ophthalmology residency at the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary in Chicago, and he then completed fellowship training at the University of California, San Francisco, and at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Sieving's area of personal research is in human hereditary retinal and macular degenerations. He maintains a clinical practice for patients with these genetic forms of retinal disease which are otherwise known by the terms retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt macular degeneration. His laboratory is studying pharmacological approaches to retard degeneration in transgenic and naturally occurring animal models that are corollaries of human eye disease. He served as the vice chair for clinical research for The Foundation Fighting Blindness, Baltimore, MD, from 1996-2001. Dr. Sieving has received a number of awards, including Distinguished Alumnus Award, Valparaiso University, 1991, membership in the American Ophthalmological Society, 1993, The Best Doctors in America: Midwest Region, 1996-97, RPB Senior Scientific Investigator Award, 1998, The Best Doctors in America: 1998-99, and the Alcon Award, Alcon Research Institute, 2000.

Major Programs

The NEI's extramural research activities are organized into six areas: retinal diseases; corneal diseases; lens and cataract; glaucoma; strabismus, amblyopia, and visual processing; and low vision and its rehabilitation.

Retinal Diseases
NEI-supported investigations include studies of the development, molecular and cell biology, 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; and the pathogenesis, etiology, and molecular biology and genetics of retinal diseases such as diabetic retinopathy; uveitis; ocular melanoma; retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and 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 lens transparency; control of lens cell division; structure and regulation of the expression of lens-specific genes; the impact of environmental insults on the lens; and the pathogenesis of human cataract.

NEI supports a range of research designed to better understand the pathophysiology underlying glaucoma, the discovery of drugs and surgical techniques for its treatment, the basis of racial and ethnic disparities in the incidence and severity of the disease, and the development of procedures for earlier diagnosis. Studies include the molecular genetics of glaucoma syndromes; physiologic mechanisms regulating fluid flow in the disease; the cell and molecular biology of optic nerve damage; ganglion cell death; and neuroprotection.

Strabismus, Amblyopia, and 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 and its Rehabilitation
The NEI supports research in low vision and rehabilitation of people with visual impairments. 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; and studying the optical, electronic, and other rehabilitative needs of people with visual impairments.

This page was last reviewed on June 21, 2005 .

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