Worth reading if you don’t want to watch:
Based on epidemiological data, we know that one of the causes, or one of the associations, I should say, is advanced paternal age, that is, increasing age of the father at the time of conception. In addition, another vulnerable and critical period in terms of development is when the mother is pregnant. During that period, while the fetal brain is developing, we know that exposure to certain agents can actually increase the risk of autism. In particular, there’s a medication, valproic acid, which mothers with epilepsy sometimes take, we know can increase that risk of autism. In addition, there can be some infectious agents that can also cause autism.
And when you look at those concordance ratios, one of the striking things that you will see is that in identical twins, that concordance rate is 77 percent. Remarkably, though, it’s not 100 percent. It is not that genes account for all of the risk for autism, but yet they account for a lot of that risk, because when you look at fraternal twins, that concordance rate is only 31 percent. On the other hand, there is a difference between those fraternal twins and the siblings, suggesting that there are common exposures for those fraternal twins that may not be shared as commonly with siblings alone.
As we did this, though, it was really quite humbling, because we realized that there was not simply one gene for autism. In fact, the current estimates are that there are 200 to 400 different genes that can cause autism. And that explains, in part, why we see such a broad spectrum in terms of its effects.
How are we going to intervene? It’s probably going to be a combination of factors. In part, in some individuals, we’re going to try and use medications. And so in fact, identifying the genes for autism is important for us to identify drug targets, to identify things that we might be able to impact and can be certain that that’s really what we need to do in autism. But that’s not going to be the only answer. Beyond just drugs, we’re going to use educational strategies. Individuals with autism,some of them are wired a little bit differently. They learn in a different way. They absorb their surroundings in a different way, and we need to be able to educate them in a way that serves them best. Beyond that, there are a lot of individuals in this room who have great ideas in terms of new technologies we can use, everything from devices we can use to train the brain to be able to make it more efficient and to compensate for areas in which it has a little bit of trouble, to even things like Google Glass.