US - INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW

months later. Today, at 40, he spends most days working from a wheelchair in his home south of downtown. He is unable to talk, walk or hold his two young boys. He can move his thumb and turn his head a bit - but virtually nothing else. A student of Greek tragedy, Desikan is acutely aware of the irony that ALS is now his personal nemesis. It seems like "the uni- verse is playing a cruel joke on us," he types, even a few sen- tences taking minutes to com- plete. "I have lost my faith in god," he continues. "I can't believe that a loving being would ever do some- thing so cruel." Yet that profound expression of despair doesn't capture the full measure of Desikan's existence - the undiminished brilliance and ambition, the bursts of outrageous humor and the moments of grati- tude and joy. His voice has been silenced. He hasn't. Since his diagnosis, Desikan has been an author, often the lead or senior one, of 25 papers in major academic journals on topics such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. As part of his huge ALS study, he and fellow researchers announced in April the discovery of two genes newly linked to the disease. His unique approach involves combining massive sets of genetic data, MRI exams of the brain, markers of brain pathology and patients' symptoms. His immodest goals include trying to prevent and treat, or at least to better under- stand, ALS and Alzheimer's. "His work is really opening new areas of research in ALS that hopefully will benefit others down the line," said Celeste Karch, a neuroscientist at Washington University School of Medicine who frequently collaborates with Desikan. Already ravaged by that dis- ease, he is unlikely to be saved by his own discoveries. But his scien- tific pursuits - along with the rela- tives and friends who pour into his house every week - remain his salvation. "I love my research, and it gives me reason to live," he types during an hours-long inter- view. "Before, I felt that I needed to prove to others that I was good," he types. "Now I don't give a s--- about what people think. I do sci- ence because I love it and I'm good at it. It gives me purpose, and I feel that I can help people like me." When Hawking died in March at 76, after ringing up a lifetime of groundbreaking accomplishments in astronomy, friends immediately thought of Desikan. "Rahul could do the same, if he gets the time," said Leo Sugrue, a UCSF doctor who runs a neurora- diology lab with him. "That's the big question." Desikan first attracted attention during his medical and doctoral studies at Boston University, when he and researchers at Harvard University created a "brain atlas" that allows clinicians to label brain regions, measure their size via scans and track the effect of med- ication. In 2015, after a residency in San Diego, he moved to UCSF for a two-year fellowship in neuro- radiology and began cranking out scientific articles at a torrid pace. To the residents he trained, he was beloved for his skillful teach- ing, sense of fun and wickedly funny imitations. To his superiors, he was a rare talent - one of the few radiologists with a deep knowledge and love of genetics, 32 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JULY-SEPTEMBER 2018 Rahul Desikan communicates using eye movement to type on his com- puter. He types so much that he often wears out the clicker. In April, he and his team announced the discovery of two genes newly linked to ALS. "I love my research, and it gives me reason to live," he said recently. Photo: Nick Otto for The Washington Post

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