As ALS descends upon him, Dr. Desikan, an assistant professor of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging, Neurology and Pediatrics at UCSF, and co-director of Laboratory for Precision Neuroimaging, is generously spending the precious moments he has left to live helping to solve the unresolved question – how to detect ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases early enough (and precisely enough) so they can be cured.
What does this look like? What does Dr. Desikan do as a scientist?
Many of us imagine research labs with test tubes and chemicals. For researchers like Dr. Desikan, the lab relies on a computer screen. He writes: “My laboratory at UCSF meets with me every week and we mine through data from millions of people trying to find answers.” One of Dr. Desikan’s unique qualities as a scientist is his ability to see patterns in data that go unnoticed by others.
I have followed his narrative over the last year and am heartbroken at what is happening to Dr. Desikan and his family. If we can see anything positive in this wrenching story, it is that as a scientist, he is using himself as a case study to reveal that all of us need to become more familiar with genetics and how they influence our health. Through his work, he is helping our community understand how fields like radiology and neurology together, are helping unravel the individual variations and corresponding treatments that could save lives. His work is taking genetics to a new level. If Dr. Desikan’s vision becomes a reality, one day it may be possible for us to know about our genetic predisposition to certain diseases like ALS, among many others. Further, there will be individualized treatments available to address our needs.
Thank you, Dr. Desikan, for making your voice heard. I pray for you and your family and that your vision of using data to identify individual approaching to treating diseases like ALS will impact the lives of those who follow in your footsteps.