Sudha Seshadri wanted to be a doctor since childhood, when she watched her mother suffer from multiple sclerosis, a neurologic disorder that would kill her when Seshadri was a 19-year-old medical school student in southern India. After her father died the same year, Seshadri transferred to be closer to her young brother and completed her training in Delhi, where she met her husband.
Her husband, a cardiologist interested in prevention, wanted to work with the world-famous Framingham Heart Study, a longitudinal study that has identified important high-risk factors. But when the family later moved from India to Massachusetts for the long term — her husband is now the project’s principal investigator— Seshadri, by then a neurologist, felt torn.
“A part of me was a little guilty about leaving a developing country with a greater need for neurologists,” she says. “The patients in India need me more than the patients in the U.S.”
There was, however, a way she could still make the most significant contribution possible: America leads the world in medical research. Seshadri went on to make a name for herself in dementia and aging research, focusing on genetics, risk factors, differential diagnoses, and disease prevention.
“We tend to tell people your diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, when each person’s diagnosis is different based on their genetics and life experiences,” she explains. “We need to individualize their treatment rather than look for one magic pill that will fix everybody.”
Seshadri’s daughter was grown and out of the house — she is now a pediatrician — when Seshadri received a call: Would she like to be the founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases, in San Antonio. “It was a beautiful city,” she says. And the Glenn Biggs “was really a mission. It was the risk, to think big, that drew me in.”
The institute opened with her at the helm in December 2017. Previously, San Antonians had to travel to Dallas or Houston, and Hispanics represented only one percent of clinical trials. Seshadri’s team, which has already raised $24 million as of May 2019, is changing that, with on-site clinical trials and patient care.
“The disease may be different in the Hispanic population,” she says. “We need more studies, and they could provide new clues that help everyone with dementia, Hispanic or not.”