Catherine Flores (middle) stand with other members of the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. As principal investigator of the program, Flores researches how to fight brain tumors in children.

A UF assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurosurgery has been awarded a grant of $1.9 million from the National Institutes of Health.

The money awarded to Catherine Flores, a principal investigator in the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy at UF, is said to go toward developing an immunotherapy treatment against malignant brain tumors critical in children.

Cancer immunotherapy is a type of treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses and help the immune system fight off invasive cancer cells as if it were fighting a common cold, Flores said.

Flores said she applied for the grant through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a branch of the NIH, and received it May 30. According to the National Institutes of Health, the research project grant provides support for health-related research.

In Flores’ research, she used stem cells of bone marrow to help the immune system produce new immune cells when patients are recovering from chemotherapy or radiation.

Dr. Duane Mitchell, a UF professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy, said the stem cells influence how efficiently the immune system can locate the brain tumors.

“This grant will support her continued research on the role of stem cells from the bone marrow while influencing and enhancing antitumor immunity,” he said.

Flores' research found stem cells play a role in guiding those immune cells, known as killer lymphocytes or killer T cells, to find invading tumor cells, Mitchell said.

“Her research has profound implications for how we develop immunotherapy treatments in the future,” Mitchell said.

Flores and her team are part of a program where researchers, clinicians and physicians work together to do research and pre-clinical testing. The program tests and evaluates the safety and effectiveness of therapy treatments discovered in their labs, he said.

“The grant she has received from the NIH will really support the continued laboratory investigation on how to most effectively utilize [killer T cells] and better understand their role in antitumor immunity,” Mitchell said.

Editors’ note: the story has been updated to reflect the accurate grant total of $1.9 million, the full name of the Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and Mitchell’s title.