The Council on Research is a standing committee of the American Optometric Association (AOA) formed decades ago by a group of dedicated leaders within optometry who recognized the importance of research to the future of the profession but also understood the unique role and responsibility that the AOA has to facilitate and advocate for vision research. In the past, this committee has hosted the very successful summer research program that contributed to the planning and eventual funding of most of the multi-center clinical trials conducted within optometry (CLEK, CITT, and others) as well as numerous NIH-funded program grants and individual career research training awards (K23 and K08). This perennial research meeting was a very successful collaboration between the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Optometry that can be linked to more than $75M in research funding over the years.
On July 9th and 10th, 2018, the AOA hosted a research summit that was organized by the Council on Research. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a current member of this committee and contributed to the planning and execution of this meeting. The goal of this research summit was to assemble the research directors and senior leadership from each of the schools and colleges of optometry in the United States and to address the following objectives:
- Seek input from leading institutions, funding agencies, professional societies, individual scientists and educators to identify opportunities for broader research participation and dissemination within the profession
- Assess the current alignment of optometric research with national funding agency goals
- Assess the current research training goals and infrastructure relative to existing opportunities and future needs
- Develop a 5-year plan to broaden participation in and promotion of research within our profession
- Develop strategies to increase the number of optometrists pursuing PhD degrees
- Develop plans to facilitate the dissemination of research findings into the classroom and clinic.
The idea for a research summit began more than a year ago after deep discussions between members of the Council on Research and the senior leadership of the AOA regarding the current state of research in optometry and the future prospects for broader participation. The idea of a research summit was championed by former AOA president Chris Quinn and current president Sam Pierce. During initial discussions and planning it became clear to the committee that the summit would be an ideal opportunity to take stock of the current research personnel and activities as well as an opportunity to carefully consider the existing needs, funding climate, training programs, and research infrastructure within North American optometric intuitions active in research.
There were more than 55 attendees representing every school and college of optometry in the USA including 18 Deans, Presidents, and Associate Deans. Representatives from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), members from the American Academy of Optometry Board of Directors, members of the AOA Board of Trustees, the MORE and Practice Guidelines Committees, representatives from the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Center for Disease Control, and the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute also participated. The meeting was comprised of three elements. First, there were presentations summarizing the current state of optometric research, graduate education, and academic publishing in optometry provided by the members of the Council on Research. These presentations provided data driven analyses of research and research training across institutions spanning the past several decades. Second, attendees heard directly from the deputy director of the National Eye Institute (Michael Steinmetz), the NEI Clinical Trials Program Officer, Donald Evertte, and Chief Review Officer of the NEI, Anne Schaffner. This was followed by presentations from Dr. Felix Barker, who represented the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Mr. James Jorkasky represented the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, the most influential advocacy organization representing eye and vision research on the national and state levels. The Center for Disease Control was represented by Jinan Saddine and the topic of patient registries for research was covered by Leon Rozenblit. Finally, the research summit included multiple group discussion sessions to engage attendees in dialog relating to the meeting goals articulated above.
The outcomes of this initial research summit are not yet fully realized, but there are already some important achievements.
- There was recognition and renewed understanding of the important role that NIH/NEI-funded research plays in helping to create evidence-based knowledge to define clinical practice and rigorous basic science investigations to advance our fundamental understanding of eye health and disease mechanisms.
- There was agreement that there is a need to increase the number of OD, PhD trainees especially for those with expertise in the basic biomedical sciences, e.g., microbiology, immunology, genetics, cellular biology, etc.
- As the average age of new NIH-funded investigators continues to increase, attendees acknowledged the need for additional funding mechanisms to support early-stage investigators.
- There was a recommendation that institutions better coordinate utilization of centralized, funded research resource centers, e.g., biostatistical core facilities and administrative research support centers.
- The attendees also recognized opportunities to participate in research funded by other agencies, e.g., CDC on health policy, Department of Defense on head and eye injuries.
- Eye and vision research advocacy was identified as an important strategic priority as was the need to coordinate nominations and activities between the organizations and societies invested in professional and research interests.
- Finally, there was acknowledgement of the need to better coordinate the dissemination and use of evidence-based research findings in clinical education programs.
Over the next few months, the Council on Research will continue this important dialog with the AOA leadership and other societies and professional organizations that have a stake in the future of research and professional practice, e.g., the American Academy of Optometry, the Assoication of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, and others to determine how best to take advantage of the opportunities exposed by the research summit. The future of this profession will be shaped by its current leaders. If we are better able to leverage our organizational infrastructure to grow and develop research and its incorporation throughout our educational institutions, we can help ensure a viable and more prosperous future for the future leaders in research and clinical practice.
Michael D. Twa
Editor in Chief