The National Eye Institute (NEI) has awarded five projects funds to develop new technology to noninvasively image cells of the eye as part of its Audacious Goals Initiative. NEI has committed $3.8 million to the projects in 2015 and up to $17.9 million over the next five years, pending the availability of funds. NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The NEI Audacious Goals Initiative is a coordinated effort to spur new therapies for blinding diseases. The central goal is to restore vision by regenerating neurons and neural connections in the eye and visual system. Special emphasis is devoted to cells of the retina, including the light-sensitive rod and cone photoreceptors, and the retinal ganglion cells, which connect photoreceptors to the brain via the optic nerve.
“These ambitious projects will give us a window into the visual system,” said Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., NEI director. “Tools developed will enhance the study of functional changes in the retina and optic nerve, in real-time and at the cellular level, and will be indispensable when evaluating new regenerative therapies for eye diseases.”
Many causes of incurable blindness affect retinal neurons. Among the hundreds of rare inherited disorders that damage the retina are retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt disease. Common causes include age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
“We have entered the research phase of the Audacious Goals Initiative. Projects in this first round of AGI funding will bridge gaps in current technology, enabling later phases of the initiative,” said Sieving.
The five projects include: