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PROJECT PRAKASH FOUNDATION

PROJECT PRAKASH FOUNDATION
CROWDRISE : Sep 22, 2013
Tax ID: 27-1164796
BASED: Cambridge, MA, United States

CHARITY WEBSITE: www.ProjectPrakash.org

Science and Service

The overarching mission of Project Prakash is to bring light into the lives of curably blind children and, in so doing, illuminate some of the most fundamental scientific questions about how the brain develops and learns to see.

The humanitarian mission of Project Prakash

India shoulders the world’s largest burden of childhood blindness. It is estimated that nearly half a million children in the country are either blind or severely visually impaired. The visual handicap, coupled with extreme poverty greatly compromises the children’s quality of life; fewer than 50% of these children survive to adulthood. These numbers take on added poignancy when one notes that in 40% of the cases, the blindness is treatable or preventable. Most children, however, never receive medical care because the treatment facilities are concentrated in major cities, while 70% of the population lives in villages. These circumstances effectively ensure that a blind child in a financially strapped rural family will live a dark and tragically short life. For blind girls, the outlook is even more dire. Many are confined at home and denied contact with the outside world.

 

There is, clearly, a humanitarian crisis that needs to be urgently addressed. To this end, Project Prakash seeks to identify and treat blind children, and simultaneously, build awareness amidst the rural populace regarding treatable and preventable blindness.

 

The scientific mission of Project Prakash

Embedded in the humanitarian aspect of Project Prakash is an unprecedented opportunity to study one of the deepest scientific questions: How does the brain learn to extract meaning from sensory information?

 

The humanitarian initiatives of Project Prakash are creating a remarkable population of children across a wide age-range who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see. We have begun following the development of visual skills in these unique children to gain insights into fundamental questions regarding object learning and brain plasticity. This is a unique and unprecedented window into some of the most fundamental mysteries of how the brain learns to extract meaning from the world.

 

On an applied note, as new eye-treatments become available and existing treatments reach children who are currently blind, the basic question we have to confront is how to proceed with their integration into the sighted world. In this context, Project Prakash holds the potential for making a significant impact by directly assessing how extended visual deprivation influences children’s subsequent development of visual skills. This undertaking is a pre-requisite for developing strategies to compensate for particular deficits.

 

Project Prakash: The journey so far

Supported by the National Institutes for Health in Washington DC, as well as private science-oriented US foundations, the Prakash initiative has so far screened over 40,000 children; over 400 of them have been treated surgically and 1400 non-surgically. It has been tremendously gratifying to see the dramatic changes that treatment has brought about in the lives of these children. Simultaneously, the scientific data gathered have begun challenging some long-held dogmas in neuroscience about learning and brain plasticity. The findings reveal that the brain maintains significant ability to change even after many years of profound visual deprivation. In a matter of a few months after their sight surgeries, the Prakash children begin to be able to use vision for complex tasks like recognizing objects and moving independently. Recently, Project Prakash provided the answer to a famous question in philosophy. Called the ‘Molyneux Query’, this question had remained open for the past over three centuries until work with the newly sighted Prakash children finally resolved it. We believe that the findings thus far represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of insights regarding brain function that working with the newly sighted can reveal.

 

Coverage of the humanitarian and scientific outcomes of Project Prakash in the popular press has had collateral benefits; it has raised awareness about the problem of childhood blindness amongst the public at large and also governmental policy makers. True to its name, the project has illuminated lives and also illuminated science.

 

 

Project Prakash: The road ahead

The magnitude of the problem of childhood disabilities in India is daunting, and the challenge of unraveling brain mechanisms of learning is amongst the hardest in science. But, we are encouraged that Project Prakash has begun to serve as a nucleus for bringing together the resources, expertise and commitment needed to mount appropriate responses. With Project Prakash, we have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to address issues of great humanitarian, health, and scientific significance. The key challenge we need to confront now is scaling the project. We have to reach out to many more children and provide them the best possible medical care. Furthermore, we need to provide the treated children with the beginnings of an education to facilitate their entry into the social mainstream. Thus, there is a need to integrate medical care, scientific research and education, while scaling up the Project significantly. The most effective way of accomplishing this is to set up a new facility dedicated to children’s care, which physically integrates a hospital, a school and a cutting-edge research center. This proposed Prakash Center for Children can transform the lives of countless children with disabilities both in India and abroad. It will also have a profound impact on fundamental science. Realizing this dream is an audacious goal, but one that can have a transformative impact on many lives and minds.

 

Additional information:

An overview article on Project Prakash:

“Once Blind and Now They See”, Scientific American, July, 2013.

Tax ID: 27-1164796 • www.ProjectPrakash.org

Fundraisers

Boston Marathon 2014 for Prakash

Boston Marathon 2014 for Pra…

Amount Raised:

$3,979

 

40% Raised of $10,000 Goal