Pawan Sinha. Image: Ed Quinn
Pawan Sinha. Image: Ed Quinn

Pawan Sinha SM ’92, PhD ’95 has dedicated the past decade of his life to providing Indian children with the gift of sight. Since 2005, his nonprofit Project Prakash has provided free services to hundreds of children with treatable eye problems.

In a recent interview for WBUR’s “Visionaries” series, Sinha recounted the events that inspired him to found Project Prakash (“light” in Sanskrit), and the insights he has gained into questions about object learning and brain plasticity.

A professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Sinha has long been interested in understanding how our brains learn to recognize objects we see. After discovering that India is home to the world’s largest population of blind children—most of them treatable cases—he saw an opportunity to unite his research with a humanitarian mission. “The realization struck me that in providing treatment to those children, I would have exactly the approach that I had been looking for in my scientific work,” he told WBUR.

Sinha reports that the majority of children that receive treatment experience significant improvement in their ability to see. The changes are not all immediate. For instance, a round object the child is accustomed to recognizing through touch may not immediately be recognizable by sight. However, says Sinha, most do learn to make such connections within days.

The researcher says this is proof that our brains are wired to learn. “Our brains are very plastic, very changeable. Even in a child who’s 10 or 15 years old, this mapping can be learned very quickly.”

Read and listen to the full interview at CommonHealth.

Learn more about Project Prakash.

Learn more about Sinha’s Vision Research group (and read his bio to find out what Guinness World Record he holds).

Video: Sinha on music, vision, and brain plasticity

Previously in Spectrum: “Treating Blindness

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