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A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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Will Autism Become Treatable?

May 24, 2010, 12:00 AM
As a child, Dr. Michael Wigler was fascinated by the personality of a friend's brother, "a very bright kid" who "never looked you in the face, constantly was throwing his arms up ... as though he had made some great discovery, and knew everything about baseball statistics." The eccentric boy, who Wigler later realized had Asperger's syndrome, grew up to be a successful DJ. Wigler, meanwhile, grew up to be one of the world's foremost experts on the genetic basis of autism-spectrum disorders. He explains his trailblazing research, which he's gathered into a "unified theory of autism," in his Big Think interview.

As Wigler and his research team have discovered, the causes of autism are more complex than genetic inheritance on the one hand or spontaneous genetic mutation on the other. Instead, their studies suggest that both factors can be at play, with some families affected by the first and others by the second. At the same time, Wigler says he has encountered zero evidence that vaccines or other environmental factors can trigger autism in infants, though he sympathizes deeply with parents who seek external causes when babies they assumed were healthy seem to "regress" into cognitive dysfunction.

Fortunately, the work coming out of Dr. Wigler's lab holds hope for autism sufferers, promising both earlier diagnosis and improved treatment. He estimates that the "culprit genes" behind autism will take an additional two to four years to identify, after which testing for new potential treatments can begin immediately. Wigler, whose autism work emerged from his research into genetic causes of cancer, also identifies some revolutionary cancer solutions on the horizon—including a simple screening test that may soon become a routine part of doctor's appointments.

Will Autism Become Treatable?

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