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HE ERC Proof of Concept Grant 2023-2024

New multisensory technology for early intervention in infants with visual impairment

Abstract: Visual impairments are disastrous for infants. They affect the infants’ reaching and motor skills, space perception, playing, socializing, physical functioning, psychological well-being, and health service needs. Therefore, early therapeutic interventions aimed explicitly at fostering these abilities are needed to improve the quality of life of people with visual disabilities. Effective rehabilitation technologies to enhance visually impaired infants' skills depend critically on a better understanding of the neuroscientific bases of multisensory and body processing. However, to date, these abilities can only be assessed qualitatively based on observational approaches. Due to the complexity of conveying a signal to visually-impaired infants that they will assuredly understand, technological solutions providing a quantitative output for visually-impaired infants are unavailable. With iReach, we aim to solve this problem. Specifically, we will design, develop and propose for commercialization a multisensory system that will provide non-invasive recording and training of the sensorymotor skills in visually-impaired infants. It will be compatible with simultaneous measures of behavioral and brain activity responses (e.g., electroencephalography). This technology will be designed based on realizing four concomitant tasks: (1) development of a novel rehabilitation technology conveying multisensory and bodily stimulation; (2) development of a quantitative method that will train and measure visually-impaired infants’ sensory-motor responses; (3) development of sensory-motor paradigms providing the audio and tactile spatial stimulations associated with body movements; (4) dedicated pipelines to analyze infants’ response to multisensory stimulations and with regard to body position. For the first time, the product resulting from iReach will train and directly quantify visually-impaired infants' sensory-motor abilities, offering a cost-efficient system for early intervention.

Total budget: 150.000,00€

Total contribution: 150.000,00€


H2020 ERC - Starting Grant 2021-2025

The role of vision on perceptual space representation

Abstract: To interact with the world that surrounds us, we rely on integrated spatial representations which we build during infancy. Visual experience is crucial for integrating sensory signals in a coherent configuration, taking into account the changes of body position in space. When vision is absent, as in the case of blind infants, how the space representation develops is still unclear. The aim of MYSpace is to identify the specific developmental periods when visual experience is crucial in establishing multisensory associations between vision and other modalities. Blind infants, blind children and blind adolescents will take part in longitudinal and cross-sectional studies spanning the developmental windows when spatial skills are acquired in sighted children. Advanced methods in psychophysics and neuroscience (high-density EEG and MRI), modeling and high-resolution motion tracking analysis will be used to investigate the following: - the role of vision on the development of independent (Objective 1) and multisensory (Objective 2) audio and tactile spatial representations at the behavioral and cortical levels; - the involvement of the visual cortex on this spatial processing when vision is absent (Objective 3); - the benefit of multisensory trainings to recover spatial impairments (Objective 4). By elucidating these aspects, the project will bridge a fundamental gap in the knowledge of spatial representations and determine how their development is shaped by visual experiences. As an outcome, MYSpace will provide a new quantitative methodology to restore the coherent spatial representations of blind infants through multisensory trainings.

Total budget: 1.500.000,00€

Total contribution: 1.500.000,00€