What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

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.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Amyloid Beta: The Key to Unlocking Alzheimer's Disease?

July 19, 2010, 5:13 PM
The key to fighting Alzheimer's disease may be a single brain protein called amyloid beta, which is the subject of dozens of current scientific studies. A recent New York Times article summarized the current understanding about the role of amyloid beta in Alzheimer's disease as such: "The disease is defined by freckles of barnacle-like piles of a protein fragment, amyloid beta, in the brain. So, the current thinking goes, if you block amyloid formation or get rid of amyloid accumulations—plaque—and if you start treatment before the disease is well under way, you might have a chance to alter its course."

But Dr. Ottavio Arancio, a professor at Columbia University's Taub Institute and Big Think expert, says the situation is more complicated than that. His research team is at the forefront of the race to understand amyloid proteins, but they are taking a different approach, trying to understand the beneficial side of amyloid beta. Dr. Arancio told Big Think recently that amyloid beta exists in very small amounts in normal brains, a fact which puzzled most researchers:
"What most scientists thought was that it was kind of piece of garbage in the brain of people with no relevance whatsoever, and instead we have started working on it and we have found that actually the very likely function of this protein in very low amounts is there to lead to normal memory. So without it we could not store information in the brain, we could not learn, and there would not be normal memory."
Dr. Arancio says that understanding the normal functioning of amyloid beta might shed light on the ravages of Alzheimer's. The question, he says, is, "how does a good protein turn into a bad protein?" 
5.3 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer's disease, and pharmaceutical companies are understandably eager to discover a cure. Currently, 100 different Alzheimer's drugs are in development, according to the Times. But these drugs work mostly by attacking amyloid beta, which Dr. Arancio's studies suggest plays a small but crucial role in proper memory functioning. Also, these drug studies can take up to a dozen years, so a cure is still years away. 

Amyloid Beta: The Key to Un...

Newsletter: Share: