Conference Health Institute / The Sense : "Train the brain to see again"

On Wednesday, January 18th, The Sense and the Health Institute co-organized a conference at Energypolis. This first event marks the beginning of a conference cycle for both The Sense and the Health Institute of HES-SO Valais-Wallis. Just over twenty people took part in this event. After a presentation of the innovation and research center, The Sense, by Professor Olivier Lorentz (Executive Director of Sense), visiting Professor Olivier Collignon presented the results of his research entitled “Brain Plasticity and Sensory Deprivation”, which is based primarily on the study of a panel of people who are blind from birth.

The Brain: An Adaptive Organ

In comparing the brain activity of blind and sighted people, it was found that the brain regions (occipital region) that normally process visual activities transform to process new information related to touch or hearing for blind/visually impaired people. This phenomenon demonstrates the principle of brain plasticity. Indeed, the brain adapts to the sensory experience specific to each individual. For example, if the occipital cortex is disturbed, a sighted person will experience problems with their vision, while a blind person will experience problems related to touch and hearing, such as loss of the ability to read Braille.

Restoration of Vision for a Blind Person: Miracle or Curse?

During the restoration of vision (corneal transplant or cataract treatment) for a person blind from birth, it was found that it was not necessarily a miracle. Although the eye is completely repaired and functional, the brain may not be capable – after a certain age – of having sufficient plasticity to adapt to these new sensory modalities related to vision. Even if vision has been perfectly restored from an ophthalmological point of view, these people may still see poorly. When restoring vision for a visually impaired person, it is essential to take the brain into consideration. It is fundamental to have an interaction between fundamental and applied research, between ophthalmology and neuroscience, in order to fully understand the impact of visual restoration.

“Train the Brain to See Again”

By better understanding the mechanisms of brain plasticity, scientists will likely be able to more precisely target vision rehabilitation using different technological processes, for example, training the brain to perform specific tasks related to each patient’s sensory deficits. The older we get, the less plastic our brains are. If action is required, it should be taken as early as possible. This is the key to visual restoration!

Link to the conference.