UF brain cancer researcher earns R01 grant

Flores research
Dr. Catherine Flores (right) working in the McKnight Brain Institute.

Catherine Flores, Ph.D., has been awarded a Research Project Grant, or R01, from the National Institutes of Health to expand her research into a new use of stem cells to enhance the clinical effectiveness of adoptive T cell therapy against brain tumors.

Flores, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery and a principal investigator in UF’s Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program, is pioneering a line of research using stem cells in rodent and various other laboratory models to fight brain cancer and likely other cancers as well.

Adoptive T cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy that involves replicating tumor-reactive T cells in large numbers outside of the body and then delivering them to a person or animal with cancer. Flores has discovered that the addition of stem cells can help guide the T cells to where tumors are growing and direct the T cells more efficiently to brain tumors, said Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of UF’s Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy. What’s more, Flores has discovered that once the stem cells have guided the T cells into the hostile tumor microenvironment, the stem cells assist in keeping the T cells alive and active.

“This has profound implications on how we carry out adoptive T cell therapy,” Mitchell said. “Our research findings have already impacted the design and focus of new human clinical trials here at the University of Florida.”

Flores’ early findings and the R01 grant to support continued investigations could yield new pathways for delivering immunotherapy, not only for patients with brain cancer but potentially other patients with solid tumors. “It has broad-reaching implications on how to make T cell therapy more effective in the treatment of solid tumors,” Mitchell said.