My lab's work ranges from basic science, querying brain plasticity and sensory integration, to technological developments, allowing the blind to be more independent and even “see” using sounds and touch similar to bats and dolphins (a.k.a. Sensory Substitution Devices, SSDs), and back to applying these devices in research. We propose that, with proper training, any brain area or network can change the type of sensory input it uses to retrieve behaviorally task-relevant information within a matter of days. If this is true, it can have far reaching implications also for clinical rehabilitation. To achieve this, we are developing several innovative SSDs which encode the most crucial aspects of vision and increase their accessibility the blind, along with targeted, structured training protocols both in virtual environments and in real life. For instance, the “EyeMusic”, encodes colored complex images using pleasant musical scales and instruments, and the “EyeCane”, a palm-size cane, which encodes distance and depth in several directions accurately and efficiently. We provide preliminary but compelling evidence that following such training, SSDs can enable almost blind to recognize daily objects, colors, faces and facial expressions, read street signs, and aiding mobility and navigation. SSDs can also be used in conjunction with (any) invasive approach for visual rehabilitation. We are developing a novel hybrid Visual Rehabilitation Device which combines SSD and bionic eyes. In this set up, the SSDs is used in training the brain to “see” prior to surgery, in providing explanatory signal after surgery and in augmenting the capabilities of the bionic-eyes using information arriving from the same image. We will chart the dynamics of the plastic changes in the brain by performing unprecedented longitudinal Neuroimaging, Electrophysiological and Neurodisruptive approaches while individuals learn to ‘see’ using each of the visual rehabilitation approaches suggested here.
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