National Eye Institute (NEI)


The mission of the National Eye Institute is to eliminate vision loss and improve quality of life through vision research. To achieve this mission, NEI provides leadership to:

  • Drive innovative research to understand the eye and visual system, prevent and treat vision diseases, and expand opportunities for people who are blind or have low vision 
  • Foster collaboration in vision research and clinical care to develop new ideas and share knowledge across other fields 
  • Recruit, inspire, and train a talented and diverse new generation of individuals to expand and strengthen the vision workforce 
  • Educate health care providers, scientists, policymakers, and the public about advances in vision research and their impact on health and quality of life

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

The NEI has established the National Eye Health Education Program, a partnership of more than 65 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 — National Eye Institute was established when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-489. The new NIH institute was the first government organization solely dedicated to research on human visual diseases and disorders. NEI officially began operations on December 26, 1968, and the National Advisory Eye Council met for the first time on April 3, 1969.

April 3-4, 1969 — First meeting of the NEI National Advisory Eye Council is held.

January 11, 1970 — Dr. Carl Kupfer was appointed NEI Director.

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

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 1,1976Results from the Diabetic Retinopathy Study proved that laser treatment is effective for treating diabetic retinopathy.

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

September 1978 — The Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research was established within the intramural research program.

June 1981 — The 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, Vision Research — A National Plan 1983-1987, recommended future NEI programs.

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; now Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications.

August 1985 — An Intramural Research Program reorganization of the Laboratory of Vision Research 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, and 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.

March 1988Results from the Cryotherapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity Study proved that freeze treatment reduces blindness in premature infants.

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.

May 1989 — The NEI established the National Eye Health Education Program, following Congressional encouragement that NEI increase its commitment to the prevention of blindness through public and professional education programs that encourage early detection and timely treatment of glaucoma and diabetic eye disease.

October 1989Results from the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study provided further evidence that laser treatment is highly effective in treating diabetic retinopathy.

December 1989Results from the Fluorouracil Filtering Surgery Study proved that fluorouracil improves glaucoma surgery outcome.

February 10, 1990 — The Ophthalmic Genetics and Clinical Services Branch (now Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch) was established in the intramural program.

December 1990Results from the Glaucoma Laser Trial proved that laser therapy shows promise as an alternative to glaucoma drugs.

October 1991Results from the Foscarnet and Ganciclovir Study showed that patients with AIDS treated for cytomegalovirus retinitis with foscarnet lived longer than those who received the standard treatment of ganciclovir.

February 1992Results from the Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial proved that oral corticosteroids alone were found ineffective for optic neuritis.

October 1992Results from the Collaborative Corneal Transplantation Study proved that patient donor blood type matching improves corneal transplantation outcome.

March 1993 — The Early Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy Study 5-year follow-up showed that current treatment for diabetic retinopathy is 95 percent effective in maintaining vision.

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, produced and distributed its fifth long-range plan, Vision Research — A National Plan: 1994-1998, that contained policy recommendations and scientific program priorities.

June 1993Results from the Retinitis Pigmentosa Study reported most adults with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) should take a daily 15,000 IU vitamin A palmitate supplement.

December 1993 — The Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial found that corticosteroids for optic neuritis lowers risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

October 1994Ten-year results released from the Radial Keratotomy (RK) Study found that RK remained a reasonably safe and effective technique to improve distance vision.

December 1994Results from the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis Study reported that a new drug-releasing device was effective in treating CMV retinitis in people with AIDS.

February 1995 — The Ischemic Optic Neuropathy Decompression Trial was halted when results found eye surgery was ineffective for optic neuropathy and may be harmful.

October 1995Results from the Endophthalmitis Vitrectomy Study found that vitrectomy surgery is not necessary for three-fourths of patients who develop an intraocular bacterial infection called endophthalmitis.

December 1995Seven year follow up results from the Glaucoma Laser Trial found that laser therapy is a safe and effective alternative to eye drops as a first-line treatment for patients with newly diagnosed primary open-angle glaucoma.

January 1996 Results from the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis Retreatment Trial found that a combination of two antiviral drugs is more effective than either drug alone for controlling recurrences of CMV retinitis in people with AIDS.

April 1996Five and a half year follow up results from the Cryotherapy for Retinopathy of Prematurity Study confirmed that cryotherapy applied to the eyes of premature babies helps save their sight.

August 1996 — The Monoclonal Antibody Cytomegalovirus Retinitis Trial was stopped when the drug, MSL 109 did not slow the progression of CMV retinitis.

May 1997 — Results from a clinical trial found that a combination of protease inhibitors and other anti-HIV drugs used to treat people with AIDS can prevent or delay the progression of CMV retinitis.

May 1998Results from the Effects of Light Reduction on Retinopathy of Prematurity have determined that light reduction has no effect on the development of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) in low birth weight infants.

June 1998Results from the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study found that the survival rates for two alternative treatments for primary eye cancer — radiation therapy and removal of the eye — are about the same.

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

July 1998Results from the Advanced Glaucoma Intervention Study found that blacks with advanced glaucoma benefit more from a regimen that begins with laser surgery and whites benefit more from one that begins with an operation called a trabeculectomy.

July 1998Results from the Herpetic Eye Disease Study found that an antiviral drug, often used to suppress genital herpes, also decreases the recurrence of herpes of the eye.

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

2000 — The NEI was designated the lead agency for a new focus area on vision in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 initiative.

February 2000 — Researchers found that modest supplemental oxygen given to premature infants with moderate cases of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) may not significantly improve ROP, but definitely does not make it worse.

July 15, 2000 — Carl Kupfer, M.D., stepped aside after 30 years as Director of the NEI. Jack A. McLaughlin, Ph.D., is named Acting Director, NEI.

June 17, 2001 — Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., assumes duties as Director, NEI.

October 12, 2001Results from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its associated vision loss.

February 14, 2002 — 100th meeting of the National Advisory Eye Council was held.

March 2002Results from the Amblyopia Treatment Study found that atropine eye drops given once a day to treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, work as well as the standard treatment of patching one eye.

June 2002Results from the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study discovered that eye drops used to treat elevated pressure inside the eye can be effective in delaying the onset of glaucoma.

October 2002Results from the Early Manifest Glaucoma Trial found that immediately treating people who have early stage glaucoma can delay progression of the disease.

May 2003 — Researchers found that patching the unaffected eye of children with moderate amblyopia for two hours daily works as well as patching the eye for six hours.

December 2003Results from the Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Study demonstrated that premature infants, who are at the highest risk for developing vision loss from retinopathy of prematurity, will retain better vision when therapy is administered in the early stage of the disease.

January 2004 — 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 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.

June 2004 — In a follow up study from the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study, researchers reported eye drops that reduce elevated pressure inside the eye can delay or possibly prevent the onset of glaucoma in African Americans at higher risk for developing the disease.

August 2004Results from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study, the largest, most comprehensive epidemiological analysis of visual impairment in Latinos conducted in the U.S., found that Latinos had high rates of eye disease and visual impairment.

November 2004Results from the Submacular Surgery Trials indicated that vision does not improve substantially for patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) who underwent surgery to remove lesions of new blood vessels, scar tissue, or possible bleeding beneath the retina.

March 2005Results from four studies identified a gene that is strongly associated with a person’s risk for developing age-related macular degeneration.

April 2005 — Researchers show that many children age seven through 17 with amblyopia (lazy eye) may benefit from treatments that are more commonly used on younger children.

August 2005 — NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni and Dr. Maharaj K. Bahn, Secretary, of the Department of Biotechnology, India, signs a United States-India Statement of Intent for collaboration on expansion of vision research.

May 2006 — A clinical trial concluded that a single dose of azithromycin taken by mouth after surgery reduces by one-third the recurrence of a vision-threatening eyelid condition called trichiasis.

September 2006 — The National Ophthalmic Disease Genotyping and Phenotyping Network (eyeGENE ®) was created by the NEI to foster research into the genetic causes of ophthalmic disorders by broadening patient and family access to genetic diagnostic testing and by maintaining a national repository of genetic samples from highly characterized individuals.

November 2006Results from the Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Prevention Trial indicated that low-intensity laser is ineffective in preventing complications of AMD or loss of vision.

September 2007 — The Neurobiology-Neurodegeneration and Repair Laboratory was established in the intramural program.

July 2008 — Researchers found that a promising new drug therapy used to treat diabetic macular edema proved less effective than traditional laser treatments.

September 2008Results from the phase I clinical trial for gene therapy found that three young adults with Leber congenital amaurosis—a severe degenerative disease of the retina caused by a mutation in the RPE65 gene—reported improvements in vision after undergoing a specialized gene transfer procedure.

October 2008 Results from the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial found that approximately 75 percent of patients with convergence insufficiency who received in-office therapy by a trained therapist plus at-home treatment reported fewer and less severe symptoms related to reading and other near work.

August 2009Three young adults who received gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis remained healthy and maintained previous visual gains one year later (see September 2008).

September 2009 — Scientists found that laser therapy is equivalent to two different dosages of corticosteroid medications for treating vision loss from the blockage of small veins in the back of the eye, a condition known as branch retinal vein occlusion (BROV).

September 2009 — Researchers have identified the first long-term, effective treatment to improve vision and reduce vision loss associated with blockage of large veins in the eye.

April 2010 — A large genetic study of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) identified three new genes associated with this blinding eye disease-two involved in the cholesterol pathway.

April 2010 — Researchers showed that ranibizumab eye injections, given in combination with laser treatment, result in better vision than laser treatment alone for diabetes-associated swelling of the retina.

April 2010Long-term results of the Early Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity study confirmed that the visual benefit of early treatment for selected infants continues through six years of age.

May 2010Results from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES) found that Latinos have higher rates of developing visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease, and cataracts than non-Hispanic whites.

June 2010Results from the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) Eye Study found that in adults with type 2 diabetes, two therapies may slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

April 2011 — Researchers report results from the first year of a two-year clinical trial Comparison of AMD Treatments Trials (CATT) that Avastin, a drug approved to treat some cancers and that is commonly used off-label to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is as effective as the approved drug Lucentis for the treatment of AMD.

August 2011 — Results of the Multicenter Uveitis Steroid Treatment (MUST) Trial reveal that intraocular corticosteroids are quicker but have more side effects than systemic corticosteroids for people with severe uveitis.

August 2012 — The NEI issues its Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation as part of a new government-wide effort to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation's most pressing challenges using prize competitions. The NEI Audacious Goals Initiative is an expansion of the institute’s strategic planning that aims to forge new approaches to persistent challenges in vision research.

August 2012 — NEI published Vision Research: Needs, Gaps, and Opportunities, its most recent compilation of panel reports that describes highlights of progress, current needs, and opportunities in all six major NEI program areas: retinal diseases; corneal diseases; lens and cataract; glaucoma and optic neuropathies; strabismus, amblyopia, and visual processing; and low vision and blindness rehabilitation. This compilation, issued every five to seven years, represents the work of hundreds of scientists, clinicians, and stakeholders involved in vision research.

February 2013 — The Argus II retinal prosthesis — a “bionic eye” that improves vision for people with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa — was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. NEI provided research funding for the development of the Argus II, which was marketed by the company Second Sight. 

February 2013 — NEI held its Audacious Goals Development Meeting, where winners of the NEI Audacious Goals Challenge presented their ideas, and where roughly 200 vision researchers, patient advocates, ophthalmologists, and optometrists from the U.S. and abroad discussed the ideas for further expansion, development, and refinement. A single audacious goal emerged: To regenerate neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system.

May 2013 — The NEI completed the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, which tested several changes to the original AREDS formulation containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper. They tried adding omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are in the same family of nutrients as beta-carotene. The researchers also tried substituting lutein and zeaxanthin for beta-carotene, which prior studies had associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. The study found that while omega-3 fatty acids had no effect on the formulation, lutein and zeaxanthin together appeared to be a safe and effective alternative to beta-carotene.

November 2013 — The NEI-funded Cornea Donor Study showed that 10 years after a cornea transplant, corneas from 71-year-old donors remained as healthy as corneas from donors half that age. The study found that corneal transplantation success rates were slightly higher for donors under 34 and somewhat lower for donors over 71.

March 2014 — The NEI-funded Infant Aphakia Treatment Study finds that in infants with congenital cataracts, surgery followed by the use of removable contact lenses for several years is safer and just as effective at correcting vision as implanting permanent artificial lenses immediately following surgery.

April 2014 — NEI announces the first funding opportunity toward accomplishing the NEI Audacious Goal: to regenerate neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system. The announcement calls for research into new technologies for imaging cells and tissues of the visual system.

April 2014 — Women with intracranial hypertension, a disorder associated with obesity that can lead to vision loss, can preserve or restore their vision by adding the glaucoma drug acetazolamide to a weight-loss plan, according to findings from an NEI-funded clinical trial coordinated by the Neuro-Ophthalmology Research Disease Investigator Consortium.

June 2014 — The e-ROP Cooperative Group, an NEI-supported collaboration that includes 12 clinics in the United States and one in Canada, shows that telemedicine is an effective strategy to screen premature infants for the potentially blinding disease retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Broader reliance on telemedicine, which involves electronically sending photos of a baby’s eyes to a distant image reading center for evaluation, could improve early detection of ROP in underserved areas of the country.

July 2014 — NEI and the NIH Regenerative Medicine Program co-fund project to develop induced pluripotent stem cell therapy for age-related macular degeneration.

February 2015 — An NEI-supported clinical trial comparing three drugs for diabetic macular edema (DME) showed that Eylea (aflibercept) provided greater visual improvement, on average, than did Avastin (bevacizumab) or Lucentis (ranibizumab) when starting vision was 20/50 or worse. Lucentis and Avastin performed similarly to Eylea when vision loss was mild.

May 2015 — NEI funds six projects through the Audacious Goals Initiative to develop new technology to noninvasively image cells of the eye in unprecedented detail. 

August 2015 — Scientists funded by NEI report that defects in a protein called aquaporin zero could be the root cause of presbyopia, the forty-something phenomenon that makes focusing on near objects more difficult.

October 2015 — Researchers funded by the NEI developed a novel mouse model for the vision disorder Leber hereditary optic neuropathy and found that they can use gene therapy to improve visual function in the mice.

November 2015 — Clinical trial funded by NEI shows that Lucentis (ranibizumab) is effective for proliferative diabetic retinopathy—first major advance in therapy in 40 years.

January 2016 — NEI researchers discover three glaucoma-related genes, increasing total number to 15.

July 2016 — NEI-funded mouse study is the first to show that visual stimulation helps re-wire the visual system and partially restores sight.

September 2016 — NEI Audacious Goals Initiative funds six teams to identify factors that influence neural regeneration.

March 2017 — NEI-funded study discovers genetic factors contributing to Fuchs corneal dystrophy, a disease that often leads to corneal transplants. 

May 2017 — NEI launches the 3D Retina Organoid Challenge, a competition to develop complete retinal eye tissue in a dish. 

May 2017 — Systemic therapy outperforms intraocular implant for treating uveitis: After seven years, NIH-funded clinical trial finds systemic therapy better preserves visual acuity and has fewer side effects.

May 2017 — Avastin as effective as Eylea for treating central retinal vein occlusion, a condition where blockages in the veins in the central retina lead to vision loss.

April 2018 — Results from a clinical study led by the Dry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group show that omega-3s from fish oil supplements are no better than placebo for dry eye.

May 2018NEI funded researchers identify 133 genetic variants that predict glaucoma risk

October 2018 — NEI Audacious Goals Initiative funds five projects to develop new models for eye disease research

November 2018 — Santa J. Tumminia, Ph.D., is appointed deputy director of NEI. 

January 2019 — NIH researchers rescue photoreceptors, prevent blindness in animal models of retinal degeneration: Findings set stage for first clinical trial of stem cell-based therapeutic approach for AMD. 

July 2019 — NEI Director Paul A. Sieving steps down. 

September 2019 — Two commonly used uveitis drugs perform similarly in NIH-funded clinical trial: Methotrexate was more effective than mycophenolate mofetil at treating severe forms of the eye disease. 

October 2019 — Treatment for common vision disorder does not improve children’s reading skills: NIH-funded study finds therapy for convergence insufficiency is no better at improving reading than placebo.

December 2019 — NIH launches first U.S. clinical trial of patient-derived stem cell therapy to replace and repair dying cells in retina: NEI-led study to test safety of treatment for a form of age-related macular degeneration that currently lacks treatment.

April 2020 — Researchers restore sight in mice by turning skin cells into light-sensing eye cells: NIH-funded study offers new path to modeling eye disease, advancing therapies.

June 2020 — Handheld device could make childrens' vision screening easier, aiding detection of amblyopia, a common cause of vision problems in children.

July 2020 — NIH selects Dr. Michael Chiang as director of the National Eye Institute. 

August 2020 — NEI-funded study finds that multifocal contact lenses can help slow myopia in children. High myopia can increase risk of blinding conditions later in life. 

September 2020Cultivated autologous limbal epithelial cell transplantation (CALEC) restores self-regenerating cells to the surface of the front of the eye.  The new stem cell technique offers hope for those with corneal damage.

October 2020 — Scientists use gene therapy and a novel light-sensing protein to restore vision in mice. By adding light-sensing protein to neurons in the retina that ordinarily cannot sense light, scientists enabled blind animals to have useful vision again.

December 2020 — Study from the NEI-funded DRCR Retina Network finds that surgery and injectable drugs work equally well to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy, a severe complication of diabetes.

December 2020Infant Aphakic Treatment Study finds that cataract surgery in infants increases their risk of glaucoma later in childhood. 

January 2021 — NEI scientists use patients’ own cells to build retinal organoids and test treatments tailored to their disease.

July 2021 — NEI-funded scientists use mice to test new gene therapy to protect optic nerve against glaucoma

November 2021 – NEI releases “Vision for the Future”, a new 5-year strategic plan. 

December 2021 — Researchers discover potential treatments for late-onset retinal degeneration (L-ORD), including gene therapy and the diabetes drug metformin.

March 2022 — NEI scientists find that the cell’s energy-generating mitochondria also help direct light to the outer segments of photoreceptors.

April 2022Study of Comparative Treatments for Retinal Vein Occlusions 2 (SCORE2) finds that treatment for central retinal vein occlusion yields long-lasting vision gains, although long-term monitoring is important. 

June 2022Ten-year followup of the AREDS2 study confirms the benefit of vitamin supplements for slowing progression of age-related macular degeneration. AREDS2 formula is safer and more effective than the original AREDS formula.

July 2022 — NEI Audacious Goals Initiative reports on the first decade of progress towards the audacious goal, regenerating the cells of the retina.

July 2022 — NEI hosts the inaugural “Eye on the Future” video competition, an annual event to engage teens in eye and vision science. 

July 2022 — Scientists from the NEI-funded DRCR Retina Network find that “step therapy” for diabetic retinopathy - starting treatment with a cheaper, but slightly less effective drug, and switching later to the more expensive drug as necessary - leads to equally good outcomes as starting with the more effective drug to start.

August 2022Three teams win final prizes in NEI’s 3D Retina Organoid Challenge. The retinal tissues created by the winning teams could be used for drug development.

August 2022 — In collaboration with NEI scientists and clinicians, a surgeon at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, performed the first-ever transplant of lab-grown retinal tissue into the eye of a person with advanced age-related macular degeneration. The retinal tissue was grown from the patient’s own cells.

September 2022 — NEI researchers uncover details about the rare eye disease choroideremia, which affects the blood vessels supporting the retina.

February 2023 — Research from the DRCR Retina Networks finds that early treatment for diabetic retinopathy may slow progression to severe disease, but it does not improve visual acuity or visual function over the long term.

March 2023 — In a collaboration with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NEI researchers find that the FDA-approved drug reserpine can improve visual function in a mouse model of LCA10, a type of retinal degeneration.

July 2023 — A study from the NEI-funded Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group found that very low dose (0.01%) atropine does not slow myopia progression in children. The study included a diverse group of children from the United States.

Biographical Sketch of NEI Director Michael F. Chiang, M.D.

Michael F. Chiang, Director of the National Eye Institute Michael F. Chiang, Director of the National Eye Institute

Michael F. Chiang is director of the National Eye Institute, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. His clinical practice focuses on pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus, and he is board-certified in clinical informatics. His research develops and applies biomedical informatics methods to clinical ophthalmology in areas such as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), telehealth, artificial intelligence, clinical information systems, genotype-phenotype correlation, and data analytics. His group has published over 200 peer-reviewed papers, and has developed an assistive artificial intelligence system for ROP that received Breakthrough Status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering and biology from Stanford University in 1991, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-Massachusetts Instittute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology in 1996, and an M.A. in Biomedical Informatics from Columbia University. He completed residency and pediatric ophthalmology fellowship training at the Johns Hopkins University Wilmer Eye Institute. Between 2001-2010, he worked at Columbia University, where he was the Anne S. Cohen Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Informatics, director of medical student education in ophthalmology, and director of the introductory graduate student course in biomedical informatics. From 2010-2020, he was the Knowles Professor of Ophthalmology and Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology, and associate director of the Casey Eye Institute, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). He co-directed an NIH-funded T32 training program in visual science for graduate students and research fellows as well as an NIH-funded K12 clinician-scientist program at OHSU.

He has served as a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) Board of Trustees, chair of the AAO IRIS Registry Data Analytics Committee, chair of the AAO Task Force on Artificial Intelligence, chair of the AAO Medical Information Technology Committee, and on numerous other national and local committees. He currently serves as an associate editor for The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. He previously served as associate editor of the textbook Biomedical Informatics: Computer Applications in Health Care and Biomedicine. He also served as an associate editor for The Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and on the editorial board for Ophthalmology Retina, the journal Ophthalmology, and the Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology. 

NEI Directors

Name In Office from To
Carl Kupfer, M.D. January 11, 1970 July 15, 2000
Jack A. McLaughlin, Ph.D. (Acting) July 16, 2000 June 16, 2001
Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. June 17, 2001 July 19, 2019
Santa Tumminia, Ph.D. (Acting) July 20, 2019 November 15, 2020
Michael F. Chiang, M.D. November 16, 2020 Present

NEI Programs

Major Extramural Programs

NEI's extramural research activities are organized into six scientific areas: retina; cornea; lens and cataract; glaucoma and optic neuropathies; strabismus, amblyopia, and visual processing; and low vision and blindness rehabilitation. In addition, the NEI supports research activities that cross-cut the major program areas. These cross-cutting areas of emphasis are From Genes to Disease Mechanisms, Biology and Neuroscience of Vision, Immune System and Eye Health, Regenerative Medicine, Data Science, Individual Quality of Life, and Public Health and Disparities Research.


NEI-supported investigations include studies of the development, molecular and cell biology, human 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; and the pathogenesis, etiology, molecular biology and genetics, and treatment of retinal diseases. NEI also supports the development of new high-resolution imaging technologies for the retina, as well as regenerative and cell replacement therapies.


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; cell biology of corneal wound healing; corneal biomechanics; corneal infections; the role of immunity in corneal transplant, and the mechanisms underlying corneal pain.

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.

Glaucoma and Optic Neuropathies

NEI supports a range of research designed to better understand the pathophysiology underlying glaucoma, the discovery of drugs and surgical techniques for its treatment, developing new measures for the clinical study of open angle glaucoma, 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; mechanisms of neuroprotection and regeneration as a possible treatment strategy, and genome-wide scans to detect disease risk factors.

Strabismus, Amblyopia, and Visual Processing

NEI supports studies concerned with the development and 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 molecular cell biology of the extraocular muscles. NEI also supports the development of new neural imaging technology and methods, as well as new methods for improving neural plasticity in adults. Support is provided for research on the pathogenesis and treatment of eye movement disorders, and the development of myopia, including understanding the biochemical pathways that regulate eye growth, and the etiology of refractive errors. 

Low Vision and Blindness Rehabilitation

NEI supports research in low vision and rehabilitation of people with visual impairments and blindness. Examples include projects aimed at improving the methods of specifying, measuring, and categorizing loss of visual function; identifying co-morbidities that interact with vision impairment and their influence on rehabilitation needs and outcomes; developing and testing visual rehabilitation models and training paradigms; developing new adaptive and assistive technologies; and investigating multisensory processes, cross-modal plasticity, and cortical reorganization in visually impaired individuals.

Collaborative Clinical Research

NEI supports a broad range of clinical research. Collectively, these projects test new agents, technologies and other interventions for the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of eye diseases; undertake population-based research to understand the prevalence of eye diseases, identify risk factors for eye disease development and progress, and develop new approaches and methodologies. NEI supports services and interventions that promotes equity and reduces disparities in eye and vision health.

Small Business

NEI’s small business programs provide early-stage capital to innovative small U.S. companies for the purpose of engaging in federal Research & Development (R&D) that has a strong potential for commercialization.

Research Training

The NEI supports research training for predoctoral, postdoctoral, and clinician scientists through both individual and institutional grants.

CounterACT Ocular Therapeutics Program

The CounterACT Ocular Therapeutics Screening (COTS) program seeks to identify novel ocular therapeutics that may be administered in a civilian first-responder or emergency care setting to effectively suppress and/or mitigate eye pathologies after sulfur mustard (SM) exposure. The primary purpose of the COTS program is to provide investigators with pre-application, pilot proof-of principle efficacy data in support of potential follow-on research efforts.

Division of Intramural Research

Office of the Scientific Director

The Office of the Scientific Director (OSD) supports basic and clinical research within the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) that is carried out by over 150 researchers (investigators, staff scientists and clinicians, and scientific support staff) in various research disciplines. The NEI intramural program also provides training for about 120 fellows and students. In addition, the OSD oversees several shared core facilities that provide intellectual and technical support in genetic engineering, histopathology, biological imaging, visual function, and flow cytometry.

Examples of research carried out in DIR include:

  • pilot clinical trials
  • CNS reward circuits that control behavior
  • structure and function of genes and proteins with key roles in normal, aging and diseased eye
  • genetically engineered models for human eye disease
  • nerve cell communications that transmit visual information across the retina
  • biochemistry of the visual cycle
  • genetic susceptibility for AMD and diabetic retinopathy
  • genetic defects and pathways of retinal degeneration
  • genetic epidemiology
  • genetic origins of inherited ophthalmic diseases
  • childhood blinding diseases and inheritance
  • neuronal glial Interactions in retinal disease
  • animal models of inflammatory disease
  • inflammatory mechanisms in eye disease
  • physiology of the RPE and iPS cell-derived retinal pigment epithelia
  • protection of retinal neurons against elevated intraocular pressure in glaucoma
  • lipid oxidation in the retina and the RPE
  • gene therapeutics to treat X-linked retinoschisis, retinitis pigmentosa, and macular degeneration

Laboratory of Immunology

The goal of the Laboratory of Immunology is to perform cutting-edge, quality research in immunology and infectious diseases that is designed to help scientists better understand the normal physiologic state and the processes that perturb it, with special emphasis on inflammatory mechanisms in the eye as a model system. In pursuit of this goal the laboratory capitalizes on the unique research environment at NIH and the constant interaction between clinician and basic researcher.

Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology

The Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology plans, conducts, and directs basic research in normal and abnormal functioning of the retina, other ocular tissues, and in retinal diseases, particularly those of a genetic nature. Biochemical and molecular understanding of complex ocular pathologies, such as in age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, is a major focus as is the discovery and application of possible therapies. Mechanisms of visual processes are emphasized as well as elucidating the complex functions of neuronal, glial, and pigment epithelial cells.

Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research

The goal of the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research (LSR) is to understand the fundamental brain mechanisms that allow sensory-motor coordination. The laboratory concentrates on the system within the brain that is probably best understood in the control of the complex activities of the visual/oculomotor system. LSR's center of interest is how this system works in humans, both normally and when it fails as a result of disease or trauma. The ability to guide movements under sensory control is one of the most critical of human abilities. The use of this ability ranges from the mundane coordination needed in everyday life to the precision of the athletic achievement. Disorders of this ability are devastating and cost billions of dollars in custodial health care.

Neurobiology Neurodegeneration and Repair Laboratory

The goal of the Neurobiology Neurodegeneration and Repair Laboratory is to develop novel treatment modalities for blinding retinal diseases based on the fundamental understanding of genetic defects and/or biological pathways underlying differentiation, homeostasis, aging, and disease pathogenesis.

Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch

The Ophthalmic Genetics and Visual Function Branch aims to understand developmental, genetic, molecular, and cellular aspects of ocular biology in health and disease and to enable, broaden, and strengthen basic and translational science throughout NEI. An overarching goal is to identify the underlying genes, genetic networks, and drug targets in disease and to utilize this knowledge to increase understanding of vision biology and the rational development of successful therapeutic interventions to slow or reverse disease progression. Over many years of clinical research, the Branch has compiled an impressive database of patients with fully characterized phenotypic information on a host of heritable ocular disorders. These disorders are amenable to further molecular genetic analysis and to future treatment protocols.

Office of the Clinical Director

The Office of the Clinical Director coordinates, supervises and supports intramural clinical research on the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases of the visual system and fosters the translation of advances in laboratory research into clinical applications. The Office provides infrastructure needed to promote high quality clinical research and to ensure patient safety, including protocol review, clinical informatics, and data and safety management; (2) monitors quality assurance of the intramural clinical research program; (3) coordinates the credentialing of health care providers within the Institute; (4) administers the ophthalmology consultation service to provide eye care for patients referred from other Institutes; and; (5) coordinates and provides clinical research training for NIH staff, fellows, and students.

Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications

The Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications has three main functions: research, education, and consultation. Research is the dominant function. It is the Division’s mission to plan, develop, and conduct human population studies concerned with the cause, prevention, and treatment of eye disease and vision disorders, with emphasis on the major causes of blindness. This includes studies of incidence and prevalence in defined populations, prospective and retrospective studies of risk factors, natural history studies, clinical trials, genetic studies, and studies to evaluate diagnostic procedures. The Division carries out a program of education in biometric and epidemiologic principles and methods for the vision research community. This program consists of courses, workshops, a fellowship program for ophthalmologists, publications, and consultation and collaboration on research. Finally, the Division provides biometric and epidemiologic assistance to NEI intramural and extramural staff and to vision research workers elsewhere. The assistance ranges from consultation to collaboration as co-investigators. It continues to provide scientific support to investigators at the NIH Clinical Center as well as extramurally.

This page last reviewed on March 12, 2024