|Agreement Signed to Expand Vision
Research Collaborations Between the United States
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced
the signing of a United States-India Statement of Intent
for collaboration on expansion of vision research. The
agreement, signed by Dr. Maharaj K. Bhan, Secretary
of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India, and
Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes
of Health in the United States, symbolizes an increased
commitment to joint collaborations on eye disorders.
"Our scientific collaborations with colleagues in India
are strong. Through this agreement, they will become
even stronger," said Dr. Zerhouni. "With the rising
global burden of disability and suffering posed by eye
disorders, partnerships such as the one we forged today
are increasingly critical."
Dr. Bhan said, "The leaders of India, the world's largest
democracy, are striving to improve the eye health of
our people. We are very concerned about the toll of
many vision disorders on our well-being. Through this
collaboration, we are confident that India will gain
important new knowledge for the protection of sight
and for the prevention of vision loss."
Eye disorders are responsible for 3.1 percent of the
global burden of disease, according to The World Health
Report 2003 produced by the World Health Organization.
These disorders rank ninth in Global Disease Burden,
behind such diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria and perinatal
conditions. Worldwide, more than 37 million people are
blind. In India, the number is more than 12 million;
in the United States, over 1 million. The societal cost
of visual disorders and disabilities in the United States
exceeds $67 billion. For India, the World Bank committed
nearly $100 million to cataract blindness control programs
from 1994 to 2001.
The National Eye Institute (NEI) has a historic relationship
with India dating back to the 1980's. Dr. Paul A. Sieving,
NEI Director, is building on earlier efforts through
enhanced vision research collaborations. The agreement
signed today follows two Indo-U.S. workshops on expansion
of collaborative research held this year in India and
the United States. With funding through a cooperative
agreement with the NEI, the Association for Research
in Vision and Ophthalmology arranged the workshops held
in February and April.
The workshops explored and identified complementary
scientific, intellectual and fiscal resources in the
U.S. and India to enhance and accelerate clinical and
basic vision research through active collaborations
between research institutions and scientists in the
two countries. Thirty delegates from 20 U.S. institutions
and 25 delegates from five vision research centers in
India held discussions in five different topical areas:
molecular genetics of eye diseases; clinical aspects
of genetic eye diseases; harmonization of clinical measurement
techniques and terminology; translational physiology;
and identification, development and exchange of research
One of the most challenging issues is comparative genomics
and the role of environment on gene expression. There
is the need to understand how the same genetic defect
leads to differing degrees of severity of eye disorders
across the globe. Studying this requires populations
with genetic and environmental diversity and cannot
be satisfactorily attempted within the confines of one
country alone. India and the U.S., each with its multiple
ethnicities, are natural partners in this endeavor.
"These are the reasons why I am very enthusiastic about
the potential for this agreement between India and the
United States," said Dr. Sieving. "With their well-trained
and dedicated eye researchers, India and the U.S. have
the ability and the will to work together to tackle
seemingly intractable problems through collaboration."
The agreement was signed at the Lawton Chiles International
House on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland and witnessed
by members of the diplomatic corps as well as by NIH
senior scientists. The agreement was developed jointly
by the NEI and the DBT with support from Fogarty International
Center, which plays a key role in advancing the NIH
mission through international partnerships.
Photos and other materials are available for download
in camera-ready format on the NEI Website: http://www.nei.nih.gov/indo-uscollaboration/.
The FIC, the international component of the NIH,
addresses global health challenges through innovative
and collaborative research and training programs and
supports and advances the NIH mission through international
partnerships. The NEI, part of the NIH, is the Federal
government's lead agency for vision research that
leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role
in reducing worldwide visual impairment and blindness.
The NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The
Nation's Medical Research Agency — is comprised
of 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and
supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical
research, and investigates the causes, treatments,
and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more
information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.