Dr. McDonnell testifies about need for more NEI funding

Washington-Advancements in eye research might be in jeopardy unless Congress works to boost the president's recommended National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding levels for fiscal year 2007.

In his proposed budget for next year, President George W. Bush is recommending no increase over the 2006 funding of $28.5 billion for the NIH, with a 0.8% reduction (or $5.3 million) for the National Eye Institute (NEI).

Dr. McDonnell, director and Wilmer Holland Wilmer Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, is chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who chairs the subcommittee, had invited about 20 other representatives of NIH-funded institutes to identify the areas that would be hurt by insufficient funding.

Funding 'necessary'

If the president's budget passes, it would be the fourth year that the NIH funding would not keep pace with inflation, according to the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR). The group is asking Congress to fund the NIH at $29.8 billion-a 5% increase over the 2006 level-with $711 million-a 6% increase over last year-for the NEI.

"This level represents the eye and vision research community's judgment as that level necessary to advance fully the breakthroughs resulting from NEI's basic and clinical research that are resulting in treatments and therapies to prevent eye disease and restore vision," the group said in a prepared statement.

James F. Jorkasky, NAEVR executive director, said researchers stand to lose what was gained during the years the budget was doubled. He is working with other health and education groups to lobby legislators in the House and Senate to increase funding.

In separate budget resolutions, the House and Senate indicated a desire to boost those programs by $7 billion, which would include $1 billion for the NIH budget to restore 2005 funding levels.

"We will continue to impress upon the House and the Senate the importance of an increase for the NIH in fiscal year '07 not only due to the impact of inflation, but the fact that we cannot lose the momentum of discovery that has emerged from the past doubling of the NIH budget," Jorkasky said.

Dr. McDonnell called his 90-second statement before the Senate subcommittee "an interesting and positive experience," which he hopes will help legislators understand the importance of biomedical research.

"The potential savings associated with preventing people from losing central vision as occurs in AMD are enormous, because they need fewer services and are more independent," he said.