Visual Impairment Research

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IMRIC, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
At IMRIC, we are training people to ‘see’ by transmitting sound along these axes and modulating the frequencies to create 2D and 3D sound images that the brain interprets in much the same way as it would with eyes.
 
This works because it's really the brain that interprets the light we see to help us understand our environment. Our brains record objects and name them, so we can see where we are going, or learn the difference between a cup of coffee and the doughnut that goes with it. 
 
Like light, sound can be modulated across vertical and horizontal axes in addition to volume and frequency. 
 
This process, called “sensory substitution” gives new hope to people who are learning to ‘see’ with their ears what they once believed could only be seen with their eyes.
 
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Over the years, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a reputation for producing some of the world’s best researchers, scientists and technologies.

And Hebrew U’s research development company called Yissum, which is the university’s technology transfer arm, has been working for nearly five decades to turn scientific theory into practice, allowing the rest of the world to benefit from the science.

Within days of exhibiting its “virtual cane” device for the blind, Hebrew University scientists grabbed headlines for a little gadget about to change the lives of millions of people across the globe.

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have tapped onto the visual cortex of the congenitally blind by using sensory substitution devices (SSDs), enabling the blind in effect to “see” and even describe objects.

Helping the blind to “see” with their acute sense of hearing, treating schizophrenia patients by electrically stimulating tissue deep in their head, and giving the sense of feeling to those without limbs are all part of the wave of the future in brain science, presented by Israeli and foreign researchers at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.

A method developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for training blind persons to “see” through the use of a sensory substitution device (SSD) has enabled those using the system to actually “read” an eye chart with letter sizes smaller than those used in determining the international standard for blindness.

In a new study, scientists trained blindfolded sighted participants to perform fast and accurate movements using a new sensory substitution device called EyeMusic.

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in France have now shown that blind people – using specialized photographic and sound equipment – can actually “see” and describe objects and even identify letters and words.

The blind have long used other senses -- including touch -- to compensate for their visual impairment. But a new study finds that when images are conveyed as sound, even the congenitally blind can distinguish among objects and their brains respond as if they are seeing.

November 11, 2012 - Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in France have now shown that blind people – using specialized photographic and sound equipment – can actually “see” and describe objects and even identify letters and words. The new study by a team of researchers, led by Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Musical CityCenter for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University and Ph.D. candidate Ella Striem-Amit, has demonstrated how this achievement is possible through the use of a unique training paradigm, using sensory substitution devices (SSDs). 

"Reading with Sounds: Sensory Substitution Selectively Activates the Visual Word Form Area in the Blind" results are reported in the current issue of the prestigious neuroscience journal, Neuron, Volume 76, Issue 3, 8 November 2012, Pages 640–652.

SSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones.

The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera. The blind participants using this device reach a level of visual acuity technically surpassing the world-agreed criterion of the World Health Organization (WHO) for blindness, as published in a previous study by the same group.

The resulting sight, though not conventional in that it does not involve activation of the ophthalmological system of the body, is no less visual in the sense that it actually activates the visual identification network in the brain.

“SSDs might help blind or visually-impaired individuals learn to process complex images, as done in this study, or they might be used as sensory interpreters that provide high-resolution, supportive, synchronous input to a visual signal arriving from an external device such as bionic eyes” says Prof. Amedi.

 

Pleasant auditory representations used, according to study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, and iPhone App now available.

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