A lack of federal funding for research into brain and eye diseases is impeding scientific discoveries, according to 94% of scientists in these fields responding to a new US study.

The survey, which questioned more than 170 leading biomedical scientists working on brain and eye diseases worldwide, also found that 91% agreed that a lack of research funding is driving scientists from the field, while 96% identified limited funding as a leading barrier to entry for new scientists in these research fields. 

These findings indicate that a lack of dependable funding is threatening to create a deficit of highly-skilled scientists, at a time when the US could soon face a healthcare crisis brought on by devastating disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma, says the BrightFocus Foundation, which conducted the study.

"Cures for these brain and eye diseases can be found if we give researchers the resources and tools they require," said Stacy Haller, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation, which was previously the American Health Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that funds research worldwide into brain and eye diseases. All the scientists questioned for the survey had received research grants from the Foundation within the last five years.

"Nearly 20 million people in the US are affected by Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration or glaucoma. That number is climbing with an ageing population, threatening our families, our healthcare and our economy. Eradicating these diseases should be a much higher national priority," said Ms Haller.

"By now, it should be clear that the cost of adequately supporting efforts to prevent and treat cognitive and vision diseases is minuscule compared to the cost of failing to do so," commented Guy Eakin, vice president of scientific affairs at the Foundation.

"The total US healthcare cost for Alzheimer's alone is $200 billion annually and is expected to soar to $1.1 trillion per yearly 2050 if we don't have the scientific discoveries made possible by research funding. Yet budget cuts for research continue, and we're losing the talents of a generation of scientists," he said.

The Foundation is calling for the levels of funding which are available to US federal and state initiatives to be boosted across agencies to support essential research into these diseases. "A failure to do so may jeopardise the pipeline of progress in terms of both research output and training of highly-skilled scientists," it says.

It also recommends that efforts to identify "meaningful connections between diseases of mind and sight" should be explored. "We recognise the value of continued exploration of opportunities to repurpose existing therapies, particularly strategies that may hold the potential to economically, efficiently and safely protect patients against myriad disorders of the nervous system," the Foundation states.