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Why There May Never Be a Cure for Autism
Autism science is making great strides, but it may never yield a single cure because autism is likely not one disorder but many.
The word "cure" often gets in the way of autism research, says Gerald Fischbach, Scientific Director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. "I don’t know of any neuropsychiatric disorder other than an infection that has been cured," he says. But that news is not as pessimistic as it sounds. A silver bullet cure may not be on the horizon, but new therapies and treatments could vastly improve the lives of those with ASD by targeting the individual components of the disorder. "The goal is to improve the quality of life of people who experience autistic symptomology," says Fischbach.
Further complicating the search for a cure is that autism appears to be a constellation of disorders. "I don’t think we’re going to find a cure for autism because I don’t think autism is really a single disorder," says Susan Bookheimer of UCLA. "As long as that is the case we’re going to have to find many approaches to treating different aspects of autism."
So where does this pursuit lead? Autism researchers are currently trying to find the pathways that lead from genes to neurobiological differences and in turn to behavioral differences. In particular, a great effort is currently underway to identify the genes that cause autism, says Michael Wigler, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. During his Big Think interviewed in 2010, Wigler described this effort: "By doing very exhaustive sequence comparisons of children to their parents, we will identify the actual culprit genes, and that will take us two to four years." He estimates that there will be up to 400 genes—any one of which could cause autism. "When we have those genes, when we see what they do, we can see what pathways they are interacting with, and some of those will suggest immediately treatments that can be tested."
As in many areas of medicine, this is a time of tremendous optimism, but "it's a marathon, not a sprint," says Christopher Walsh, Chief of the Division of Genetics at Children's Hospital Boston. "We now have the first sort of beginning of what we hope will be a raging bonfire of possible treatments," he believes. "But right now it’s just a couple of little hopeful flames that we’re trying to blow on and nurse as well as we can to get them going."
—A recent Yale School of Medicine study that identifies the neural signatures of autism.
—A scientific study investigating whether MDMA (ecstasy) or a similar compound can increase empathy in those with autism.
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.