As the scientific
director of the Division of Intramural Research, Miller will coordinate
the laboratory and patient-oriented vision research taking place
at the NEI's Bethesda, Maryland campus. The NEI also supports
vision research through approximately 1,600 research grants and
training awards made to scientists at 250 facilities around the
Established by Congress in 1968, the NEI is charged with protecting
and prolonging the vision of the American people. That task
becomes ever more difficult as the Baby Boomer generation ages
and life cycles lengthen, says a March report, "Vision Problems
in the U.S.," authored by the NEI and the group Prevent Blindness
in America. More Americans than ever before are facing blindness.
Currently, more than 1 million Americans aged 40 or over are
blind, and an additional 2.4 million classified as visually
impaired. Those numbers are expected to double over the next
30 years as Baby Boomers enter the bifocal stage.
The leading causes of vision impairment in the U.S. are diabetic
retinopathy, a condition that affects more than 5.3 million
Americans aged 18 or older; age-related macular degeneration
(AMD), which affects the part of the retina responsible for
sharp vision in patients over 60; and the more familiar ailments
of the elderly, cataracts and glaucoma. The Eye Institute is
working on advanced therapies such as the transplantation of
healthy cells into diseased retinas, which may ameliorate AMD;
gene-based treatments that may slow some forms of retinal degeneration;
and "neuroprotection" methods that will prevent or slow glaucoma
While overseeing these programs, Miller will continue his own
research at the institute. The author of more than 60 scientific
papers, Miller has extensively studied epithelial systems in
the breast, lung and eye. His research in epithelia cells, whose
layers surround all of the major organs and line the body's
cavities, has focused on the cells' ability to direct nutrients,
ions and fluid from one extracellular space to another.
Looking at the eye's epithelial cells, Miller has advanced
the use of gene-transfer techniques to create an animal model
of choroidal neovascularization (CNV), a primary component of
the most devastating form of AMD. This model is being used to
test a variety of therapeutic interventions against CNV. He
has a patent pending for the use of recombinant gene-delivery
vectors for treating CNV.
He has also developed other animal models of retinal detachment
as well as macular edema caused by diabetic retinopathy, in
which fluid or swelling builds up in the macula the central
part of the retina responsible for the sharpest central vision.
In these models, pharmacological interventions have been used
to reduce retinal edema by increasing the magnitude of fluid
transport across the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the
intact eye. This work has formed part of the basis for phase
I clinical trials.
The NEI post "presents an enormous opportunity to translate
basic research into clinical practice," says Miller. "And
all the expertise and resources necessary to carrying out this
goal are housed on the Bethesda campus, which is an unparalleled
national resource of talented biomedical scientists and clinicians."