Lotfi Merabet is a clinician-neuroscientist interested in how the brain adapts to the loss of sight. He completed his doctorate degree in neuroscience (University of Montréal) and clinical doctorate in optometry (New England College of Optometry). He then continued his post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and completed his Master’s degree in Public Health (Harvard). In 2010, he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary as a clinical- researcher. His work is currently supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Many novel technological approaches are being developed to teach and enhance cognitive skills in the blind. We have developed a user-centered, audio- based method of virtual indoor navigation called AbES (Audio-based Environmental Simulator) which represents the spatial layout of an actual physical building and is implemented within the context of an exploration-themed video game. Auditory cues (for example, door knocks and footsteps) are used to acquire contextual spatial information regarding one’s surroundings. The immersive, engaging, and heavily interactive nature of the software interface allows for the generation of mental spatial representations that can be transferred to real- world navigation tasks carried out in the physical building represented in the game. Furthermore, game play also promotes creativity and problem- solving skills. We have found that navigation within virtual environments represents a tractable training and testing platform that allows for the collection of quantifiable performance metrics and monitoring of learning that can be compared across a variety of visual impairment conditions. Finally, combining this technology with neuroscience research (such as brain imaging) we can investigate brain mechanisms related to navigation skills, compensatory behavioral strategies, and sensory processing in the absence of vision in general.