Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Featured Neuropathologist: Craig Horbinski, MD, PhD

Today I profile Dr. Craig Horbinski (pictured), a rising star in the neuropathology firmament. If you follow the neuropathology literature, you are sure to hear about Craig in the coming decades as he sure to make a big impact on the field. After a short biographical sketch, Craig answers a few of my questions:

Craig Horbinski hails from snowy Buffalo, NY, where he did both his undergraduate training in Biology at Canisius College and a combined MD, PhD at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Craig’s work as a graduate student was on mechanisms of dendrite growth, requiring a lot of microscopy and morphometric analyses. After a 1-year postdoctoral research fellowship studying Parkinson Disease at the University of Pittsburgh, he did 3-year Anatomic Pathology residency at UPMC. During this time Craig developed an interest in oncogenesis, particularly as his residency training exposed him to cutting-edge molecular diagnostic approaches to neoplasms. Thus, when continuing his training as a fellow in neuropathology at Pitt, he focused his research on both the molecular diagnostics of gliomas and mechanisms underlying gliomagenesis, as well as the application of telemedicine to neuropathology. Upon completion of his neuropathology fellowship in July of 2009, Craig joined the faculty at the University of Kentucky in Lexington as an Assistant Professor in Neuropathology, where he is continuing his work on gliomagenesis and molecular diagnostics as an independent principal investigator. Craig is married to Christy and has a 1-year old son, Cedric. He and Christy are slated to adopt a baby from China, probably by early 2010.

1. Why did you decide to become a neuropathologist?

I’ve been attracted to the neurosciences since my sophomore year of college, which featured a fantastic course on neurobiology. Since I was already committed to being a physician, I thought neurology was the way to go (neurosurgery was out of the question). But as I went through medical school I discovered the field of pathology, in particular neuropathology. To me it seemed the best way to scratch both the research and clinical itches (so to speak), as neuropathology lends itself particularly well to those with combined-degree training.

2. Name a couple of important professional mentors. Why were they important to you?

The first person I have to acknowledge is Dennis Higgins, my thesis advisor back at SUNY Buffalo. He was a real gem, a pure scientist whose passion for science was both inspiring and infectious. It’s not an exaggeration to say I learned how to think like a scientist from him. Tragically he died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago; I think he would have been pleased to see how things have gone for me thus far. The second key person is Clayton Wiley, the Director of Neuropathology at the University of Pittsburgh. While I learned science from Dennis, I learned grantsmanship and administration from Clayton. He’s one of those exceedingly rare people who managed to succeed at all four pillars of an academic physician’s life: research, clinical, administration, and teaching. Plus he’s mastered the art of staying out of political brouhahas—not a trivial accomplishment in a big academic center. Even more intolerable is that he’s a terrific guy, very approachable, with a sharp, self-deprecating wit. Anyone who wants to know how to survive as a physician-scientist ought to emulate Clayton.

What advice would you give to a pathology resident interested in doing a neuropathology fellowship?

Be sure you are flexible with where you want to live. The job market for neuropathology is pretty good right now, but since brain tumors are relatively uncommon, only medium-to-large cities can typically sustain neuropathologists. That is, unless you are planning on doing full-time clinical, with some general surgical path mixed in. Another word of caution goes to those who want to develop an independent research program—most academic neuropath openings will claim they want you to do independently-funded research, but beware of red flags like being asked to commit 50% or more of your time to clinical work “until you get a grant” (which probably won’t happen if you’re devoting that much time to clinical), or splitting your clinical time between neuropath and general surgical path.

What city (other than Lexington, KY of course) would you like a future American Association of Neuropathologists meeting to be held and why?

I think Salt Lake City would be a neat change of pace from the typical destinations. It’s fairly easy to fly to, it’s relatively inexpensive, the weather’s good in June, and the mountain scenery is gorgeous.


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