Northwestern team researching brain tumors benefits from nonprofit


CHICAGO (CBS) – Medical breakthroughs can take years, even decades.

That’s why researchers need constant funding. Raising money is a big part of the nation’s largest brain tumor conference, taking place this week in Rosemont.

CBS 2’s Lauren Victory visited with two of the more than 1,000 patients and caregivers planning to attend.

Former gymnast Bri Salsman found a twist on tumbling through aerial fitness. She needed a workout with lower impact after her life took a turn.

“Started with a migraine on a Monday that progressed into vision issues,” Salsman said. “I went into the ER and was in surgery by that Friday.”

Salsman’s MRI showed a white, squiggly mass on the left side of her head. It was a brain tumor.

“It was about that big,” she said, gesturing with her thumb and index finger. “Maybe a little bit smaller than a golf ball.”

As much of it as possible was removed in 2017.

She keeps her head shaved and scar visible as a conversation starter and uplifts other patients as a mentor, sharing her own recovery struggles.

“I knew what I wanted to say,” Salsman said. “The thoughts were there but I was having a hard time articulating them.”

From raising awareness to raising money

A Northwestern Medicine research team is constantly searching for tumor treatments and funding is a factor.

“You just need somebody to give you a chance,” said Dr. Craig Horbinski, a Northwestern Medicine neuropathologist.

Horbinski leads the Horbinski Lab and said early in his career, grant money was hard to come by.

“If I didn’t get that proposal funded in 2008, I was going to quit science altogether,” he said.

Then, money from the American Brain Tumor Association came through. The nonprofit that’s celebrating 50 years this week, has doled out $34 million to budding researchers.

Horbinski said the results of work paid for by that first grant led to more funding. Now, scientists under his watch are studying how to shrink tumors, especially fast-growing and deadly glioblastomas.

“We really have not seen substantial improvements in outcomes over the last 30 years,” said Horbinski.

Not all tumors are cancerous. Salsman’s brain was growing a different type of mass. They come in more than 100 different forms.

Victory: “What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about brain tumors being a survivor?”

Salsman: “The number one thing is they’re more common than I realized.”

About 800 kids and adults are diagnosed with brain tumors every day.

“I was really, really fortunate to have the outcome I’ve had,” Salsman said.

The hope is to continue funding research, so every patient can bounce back like Salsman.

Horbinski will talk about more of his research and Salsman will share more of her story at the American Brian Tumor Association conference this week in Rosemont.

For more information on the conference, visit

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