When the blind can see again: A critical question of perception

Our sense of sight is arguably our most important sense.  Imagine how different your life would be if soon after birth, you lost the ability to see.  For over 1.4 million children worldwide, that is their life.  Being blind in developing countries like India has a costly impact: over 90% of blind children do not go to school, less than 50% make it to adulthood, and for those that do, only 20% are employed. But the real tragedy is that many of these cases of childhood blindness are completely avoidable and even treatable.

Why do they go untreated?

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Understanding the Visual System: A Conversation with Botond Roska

Botond_RoskaWhen we see the world, there is a huge amount of processing that occurs in the neural circuits of the retina, thalamus, and cortex before we can even begin to comprehend our environment. And all of this computation happens very quickly! In this interview with Dr. Botond Roska, Senior Group Leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, we discuss his research on the elements of the visual system that compute visual information as well as how this knowledge can be used to help blind patients. Dr. Roska was inspired by the work and scientific approach of David Hubel (more about this on Wednesday!), and continues to follow his example: “Listen to the experiment, and not your colleagues,” says Dr. Roska. But what would he be, if not a neuroscientist? Find out in my conversation with Dr. Roska, who also shares his story of transition from musician, to medicine, to mathematics and to neuroscience!Continue reading

Split Brain Knowing Neurons

The Split Brain: Making Two Hemispheres Whole

Admit it!  You’ve taken one of those online quizzes to see if you’re more “right-brained” or “left-brained.”  Too bad it’s all bunk!    Popular culture would have you believe that creative and artistic people are right-brain dominated, while logical, methodical, and analytical people are left-brain dominated.    The fact of the matter is that you use all parts of your brain equally, no matter your personality traits!  So, how did this myth even come to be?Continue reading

Taxi Photoswitch Knowing Neurons

Turning On A “Photoswitch” Helps Blind Mice See The Light

Our senses connect us to the world.  Your visual system lets you know that there is a yellow car ahead of you, and your auditory system lets you know that it is honking its horn.  As unique as each sensory system seems, they actually share basic characteristics and similarities of structure and function.  Beginning with a stimulus (the vision of the car or the sound of the horn), a cascade of complex interactions occurs that send signals through neural circuits so that we can respond to our surroundings.Continue reading

Retinal Prostheses: Restoring Vision to the Blind

Vision is arguably one of our most important senses.  We rely on it to recognize color, shape, movement, distance, and perspective about the world around us.   Although all parts of the eye help us perceive our environment, the most vital part is the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye.  This structure contains several layers of cells interconnected by synapses.  When light enters through the eye, it passes all the way through the retina, until it is captured by photoreceptors.  These cells then convert the light energy into tiny electrochemical impulses, which are processed by retinal neurons, before the signal is sent to the brain.Continue reading