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Research brings light in young lives.

THE USE of humans in scientific research is common -- be it basic research or in clinical trials to test a new drug or therapy.

Most scientists are contented once they get the desired results from their research, leaving the so- called ' subjects' to look after themselves. The results are published in scientific journals, but the problem on the ground may not have been solved.

The people who participated in the study continue to lead the same life or suffer from the malady which the researchers may have studied. Sometimes scien-

tists may even find a possible solution or an ' intervention' that can solve the problem. But the solution remains confined to research papers and journals.

Most scientists feel that it is not their job to solve a problem. They can only demonstrate if a particular solution works or not. It is not in their domain to implement the results of their research. The implementation part is left to policy makers, government agencies and voluntary bodies.

But Pawan Sinha -- an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi -- thinks differently.

Sinha is currently a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been studying some fundamental issues in neuroscience. His lab has been examining the nature of information that the brain uses for recognising important classes of objects, such as faces. This research has wide ranging appli-

cations -- from providing sight to visually impaired children to designing future robots and computers with the capability to ' see'. Sinha has restored the sight of several children in Delhi who had been suffering from congenital blindness for several years.

Most cases of blindness in India are caused by vitamin A deficiency, cataracts, retinal or optical dystrophies, or poorly developed eyes. About half of these cases are treatable or preventable, but many blind children never receive medical care.

Cases of vision being restored after years of blindness have provided scientists a unique opportunity to explore fundamental questions relating to the brain's functioning.

After being deprived of visual input, the brain needs to learn to make sense of the new flood of visual information. Sinha's research among Indian children has suggested that dynamic information -- input from moving objects -- is critical in this process of learning.

While this made great research, Sinha found that even after children have their sight restored, they find it difficult to get into a school and join mainstream society. So, he decided to help such children and set up Project Prakash.

So far, over 1,000 people at hostels and schools for the blind as well as in remote villages have been screened and some 200 have been treated.

Now the project is planning to build its own 50- bed clinic- cum- research facility and a 500- student school in Rishikesh by raising $ 15 million from donors, so that sightrestored children get education appropriate to their unique condition.

You can truly call this research with compassion.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Sep 24, 2009
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