Jennifer Munson, an associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, is the 2021 recipient of the Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation Emerging Leader award to further her study of patient-specific therapies for deadly brain tumors.

Munson is an expert in interstitial fluid flow, the movement of liquid within and around living tissues, including tumors. The two-year, $500,000 grant will fund research on how understanding the role of fluid flow in glioblastoma might lead to new therapies for it.

Glioblastoma is notoriously resistant to treatments, including ones that are effective on other forms of cancer. Fifteen thousand Americans are diagnosed annually with glioblastoma, according to the Ivy Foundation, and 90 percent won’t survive three years with the disease.

The Arizona-based foundation funds promising brain cancer research with the potential to lead to long-term survival and high quality of life for patients. The Emerging Leader award supports early-to-mid-career investigators conducting high-impact, high-reward research with the potential to translate into clinical treatments.

“This grant will allow us to build upon research in which we’ve identified a particular protein that appears to be important to how fluid flow affects the invasion and progression of glioblastoma,” said Munson, who also is an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering.

The protein expression increases when exposed to fluid flow around tumors, Munson found. Her lab will study whether targeting the protein receptor could be a useful therapy against glioblastoma and whether there’s a patient population that would benefit from targeting it.

Munson specializes in engineering tissue models that replicate the tumors of individual patients, allowing study of how the therapy can be improved at a patient-specific level. Her lab will use these models, along with mouse models, to determine if some drugs already in use for other diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, are good therapies.

“The Ivy Foundation is one of the premier foundations that’s funding brain tumor research aimed at being translated into clinical use. Our research shares that focus on moving what we learn from the lab into clinic where it can help patients. We’re grateful to have the foundation’s confidence,” Munson said.

“Dr. Munson’s recognition by the Ivy Foundation is indicative of the high regard in which she and her innovative research are held. The Emerging Leader award is a prestigious and highly competitive form of national recognition,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for Health Sciences and Technology. “There is a tremendous need for innovative approaches to glioblastoma research and this support for Dr. Munson’s program will increase the opportunity to make important new advances.”

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