Human brain can adapt to see after blindness

PATIENTS BLINDED by cataracts from an early age can learn to see after corrective surgery many years later, suggesting that the brain can rewire itself long after the ‘critical window’ of development. The findings, from a recent study by US researchers, suggest that the area of the brain which processes vision may be able to adapt and catch-up, even after years without visual stimuli.

Researchers looked at children in India who had developed cataracts in both eyes before the age of one, who then received corrective surgery at eight years old or later. After the surgery, 11 patients were monitored for six months and administered iPad- based tests to measure contrast sensitivity.

Five children (aged 11 to 15) showed a significant gain in visual function, and two had seen an improvement of 30 times their original assessment. The results indicate that their brains were able to adapt to process the flood of new information from their functioning eyes. 
“I think it really extends what we think of as the window of plasticity in the visual brain,” said Dr Amy Kalia, study author and post-doctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
Dr. Luis Andres Lesmes, co-author and designer of the iPad test, said: “The study speaks to how incredibly plastic the brain is, and how resilient it is. Even if the brain is blind to visual experience for more than a dozen years, you can still actually develop a lot of vision.”
Commenting on the findings to OT, Dr Dolores Conroy, director of research at Fight for Sight, said: “This study challenges established views … and gives new insights into brain plasticity. “The implications of this are far reaching and may lead to new approaches, not only for children with treatable sight loss in developing countries, but also deafness.”
More information about children’s eye care is here.
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