Jesus heals a man born blind in this Sunday’s gospel, but many of those around him with good vision were unwilling to see the miracle in front of them. While modern science has yet to find a cure for blindness, promising studies are under way as researchers are gaining a new appreciation of how the brain of a person blind from an early age makes new connections that enhance hearing, smell, and touch, as well as memory and language. Researchers used MRIs to scan the brains of 12 people who were born blind or lost their sight by age 3. The scans showed a number of changes in the brains of the people who were blind that weren’t present in scans from people who could still see. Changes caused by early blindness “may be more widespread than initially thought,” lead author Corinna Bauer, a scientist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, said in a hospital news release. “We observed significant changes not only in the occipital cortex [where vision is processed], but also areas implicated in memory, language processing, and sensory motor functions,” said Bauer. Learning more about these connections could lead to more effective rehabilitation programs to help blind people, the researchers suggested. According to senior study author Lotfi Merabet, O.D., Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity at the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, “Even in the case of being profoundly blind, the brain rewires itself in a manner to use the information at its disposal so that it can interact with the environment in a more effective manner. If the brain can rewire itself—perhaps through training and enhancing the use of other modalities like hearing and touch and language tasks such as Braille reading—there is tremendous potential for the brain to adapt.” Bauer said the connections that appear to be unique in those with profound blindness suggest that the brain "rewires" itself in the absence of visual information to boost other senses. She said this is possible through the process of neuroplasticity, or the ability of our brains to naturally adapt to our experiences. The researchers hope that increased understanding will lead to more effective rehabilitation efforts that will enable blind people to better compensate for the absence of visual information. The study was published online March 22 in the journal PLOS ONE. Lessons drawn from the readings “Man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart,” the first reading this Sunday reminds us. In the case of blindness, researchers are learning to look into the brain, and in doing so, devising new therapies to enhance compensating abilities to lost vision. At the same time, advances in gene therapy are beginning to offer hope that certain kinds of blindness at present untreatable may soon be reversible. Final thought in light of the news While the advances of modern science are extremely valuable and carry the potential to alleviate much suffering, it is good to remember that much suffering comes about when those of us with good vision choose a sort of voluntary blindness by ignoring the call to compassion that is at the core of the gospel message. Jesus healed because his heart was moved by the suffering he saw. Can we say the same?