The Tenacity of Science
He was the first in his family to finish college, among uncles and cousins who were hard-working coal miners and car mechanics.By the end of kindergarten, he decided to be a scientist. By 10th grade, medical doctor was his chosen profession. By the time he went to college, Craig Horbinski wanted to study neuroscience and become both a doctor and a scientist. Inspired by the legacy of his grandfather, an orphan who never had formal schooling but found his way serving as a minister, Craig saw the far- reaching impact his true hero had on thousands of people in the community. Instead of leading a congregation, Craig wanted to help people through the study of neuropathology—examining brain diseases at their most fundamental level by understanding the complexity of tissues and cells. Pursuing his dream of becoming a medical doctor and a neuroscience researcher wasn’t easy. The early days of his career were bumpy—balancing clinical care and brain tumor research felt insurmountable at times. In fact, there was a brief moment when Craig was ready to throw in the towel. At that moment of raw frustration and vulnerability, something powerful happened that reignited a steadfast resolve—he received an $80,000 Basic Research Fellowship Grant from the American Brain Tumor Association, forever changing the trajectory of his career. Now Dr. Horbinski counts one of his superpowers as the ability to see beyond the still snapshots of medical records or tumor samples, and delve deeply into the tumor tissue and molecular environment to provide multi-dimensional insights into how the tumor and therapies might affect brain tumor patients. “I may be the only neuro-pathologist who focuses on the IDH-mutant gliomas in the country,” said Dr. Horbinski. “I provide an insight that the others just don’t have in understanding patients’ prognosis and effect of treatment based on the tumor’s molecular type.” He was recently awarded a tenure-track professorship and is currently serving as director of the Northwestern Nervous System Tumor Bank and director of the Mouse Histology and Phenotyping Laboratory at Northwestern University. The Nervous System Tumor Bank supports more than 40 brain tumor projects by over 20 investigators within and outside Northwestern University.
And while Dr. Horbinski has achieved his childhood dream, he knows the true heroes are those outside the lab experiencing the brain tumor first-hand.
“All patients, survivors, and even those who don’t survive, as well as caregivers, they are the real heroes,” said Dr. Horbinski. “They remind me every day that although the human body is fragile, the human spirit is stronger than steel.”
Through the generous support of donors, the ABTA helped Dr. Horbinski make his dream of becoming a neuroscience researcher a reality. And in return, he aims to make a difference in the lives of brain tumor patients. A promise we know he won’t give up no matter the challenge.