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Wellcome Trust support for vision research
  1. Scientific Programme Manager for Neuroscience, The Wellcome Trust

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    Strengthening the support for vision research

    The importance of fundamental clinical research in the vision sciences has been recognised by the Wellcome Trust since the early 1970s, but the low level of activity was always a cause for concern. Consequently, in 1977 vision research was “selected for special development” by the trustees (equivalent to the governors of the present day), and in the following years training fellowships and fellowships in ophthalmic medicine and surgery were established. In 1984 the trust’s activities were expanded further by the establishment of the Vision Research Working Party (VRWP), followed by the introduction of other training fellowship schemes to enable young clinicians to establish an academic career, while maintaining their clinical links. By 1986 the trust’s research support in this area had topped £1m per annum, and in 1990 the VRWP became a grants committee, linked to the Neuroscience Panel, with its remit being extended to cover auditory research.

    Reviewing the impact of the Wellcome Trust’s activities

    The Wellcome Trust routinely reviews the impact and the mechanisms of its special initiatives, to ensure that funding policies and programmes remain both effective and appropriate, and in 1997 a review of the trust’s contribution to vision research in the United Kingdom was carried out by its policy research unit, PRISM. Briefly, the review found that given the substantial health burden of visual diseases and disorders, Wellcome Trust resources made a real and vital contribution to important research in the field.

    Three important conclusions could be drawn from the information gathered during this review. The first was that the burden of human suffering associated with visual diseases and disorders, both in the United Kingdom and worldwide, is considerable and is set to increase if current demographic trends continue. The cost of treating these diseases and the economic impact of vision impairment is also very large. Using the World Health Organisation’s now …

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