Research Summary:
Understand ovarian cancer biology and identify novel targets for treatment

The ovarian cancer laboratory at the University of Chicago, founded in 2004, is dedicated to improving our understanding of the biology of ovarian cancer metastasis and exploring the use of novel drugs for its treatment. We have created  a very collaborative environment in the laboratory, so that postdocs, physicians, and students work together to answer  important questions in ovarian cancer biology. We meet once/week to discuss research results and new ideas or to listen to an invited speaker in our field. The laboratory is directed by Dr. Ernst Lengyel (myself), and Hilary Kenny, PhD.  We have worked together successfully since 2005.

Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, and has the highest mortality rate of all gynecologic malignancies. The high fatality of the disease is because it is often diagnosed at a late stage, when tumor cells have disseminated within the peritoneal cavity. Unfortunately, despite aggressive treatment, most patients have a recurrence and we are rarely able to cure the disease. For clinical information about ovarian cancer, please see the University of Chicago Medicine webpage discussing our treatment of ovarian cancer and ovarian masses. I am a clinically active Gynecologic Oncologist , with a special focus on the surgical treatment of ovarian cancer.

Although the cell of origin for ovarian cancer has not been identified, we now recognize that, after malignant transformation, tumor cells are carried by peritoneal fluid and attach to metastatic sites, including the peritoneum and omentum, rarely leaving the peritoneal cavity. The complex interactions between stromal and cancer cells control this dissemination. Therefore, understanding these bi-directional interactions has become a major goal of our lab.

For further overviews about ovarian cancer and specific areas of expertise in the laboratory please see our review article on ovarian cancer biology (American Journal of Pathology), or reviews on experimental models and 3D cultures in ovarian cancer, and the interaction between adipose tissue and cancer. See "Rethinking ovarian cancer II: reducing mortality from high-grade serous ovarian cancer" Nature Reviews Cancer, which contains proposals by an international group of researchers for improving ovarian cancer survival

Main projects in the laboratory:

  1. Understand the early steps of ovarian cancer metastasis to the peritoneum and omentum
  2. Characterize tumor – stroma interactions in ovarian cancer,  including the communications between  adipocytes, fibroblasts, mesothelial cells and cancer cells
  3. Identify new treatment targets and evaluate the efficacy of these therapeutics in pre-clinical models to prepare for their translation into the clinic
  4. Investigate the validity of agents that are effective treatments in other cancers to delay or inhibit the development of ovarian cancer
  5. Utilize advanced proteomics analysis  methods to gain further insights into ovarian cancer biology and develop tools for ovarian cancer detection and treatment

In our research, we use primary and cultured ovarian cancer cell lines and mouse models of ovarian cancer (xenograft and genetic). Interactions between cancer cells and the microenvironment are investigated in vitro using confocal microscopy (see our movie of a novel invasion assay) and novel organotypic 3D cultures with primary human omental cells (both normal and cancer-associated). We have also assembled several tissue micro arrays with tissue from primary and metastatic ovarian cancers. (see our video and article in the Journal of Visualized Experiments). These tissue samples are linked to a database containing clinico-pathologic information on all ovarian cancer patients operated on at the University of Chicago since 1992. Clinical data are collected prospectively. Recently we used proteomic profiling to identify the ovarian cancer cell lines that most accurately represent high-grade serous tumors at the protein level. This analysis revealed a protein signature that allows us to distinguish ovarian cancer tumors arising in the ovarian surface epithelium or fallopian tube epithelial cells from tumors arising in the fallopian tube. Dr. Watters and Dr. Lengyel are also exploring the use of serum proteomics to screen for ovarian cancer and differentiate between benign and malignant adnexal masses to avoid unnecessary diagnostic surgeries.
We cooperate very closely with the Department of Pathology at the University of Chicago, particularly with two Gynecologic Pathologists, Drs. Montag and Krausz. An important collaborator at Northwestern University is Dr. Marcus Peter in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and other important collaborators at the University of Chicago are Dr. Yusuke Nakamura in the Department of Medicine and Dr. Samuel Volchenboum, the Director of the Center for Research Informatics. A very close collaborator is Dr. Iris Romero, a Gynecologist who works on drug repurposing and ovarian cancer prevention. We also have a very productive collaboration with Fabian Coscia and Matthias Mann of the Matthias Mann Lab in the Department of Proteomics and Signal Transduction at the Max Planck Institute.
The common goal of everybody working in  or with our laboratory is to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to the clinical arena, so that patients may benefit.

Ernst Lengyel
August, 2016

Please E-mail us with questions:


nature medicine cover

Kristin M Nieman, Hilary A Kenny, Carla V Penicka, Andras Ladanyi, Rebecca Buell-Gutbrod, Marion R Zillhardt, Iris L Romero, Mark S Carey, Gordon B Mills, Gökhan S Hotamisligil, S Diane Yamada, Marcus E Peter, Katja Gwin & Ernst Lengyel. Adipocytes promote ovarian cancer metastasis and provide energy for rapid tumor growth Nat Med. 2011 Oct 30;17(11):1498-503 See Abstract

MCT civer

Zhang Y, Kenny HA, Swindell EP, Mitra AK, Hankins PL, Ahn RW, Gwin K, Mazar AP, O'Halloran TV, Lengyel E.

Urokinase plasminogen activator system-targeted delivery of nanobins as a novel ovarian cancer therapy. Mol Cancer Ther. 2013 Dec;12(12):2628-39
An image from the paper was selected for the cover. See Abstract


The Cover of the October 2007 International Journal of Cancer displays a picture of the 3D omental metastasis model created by the Lengyel Lab

Kenny HA, Krausz T, Yamada SD, Lengyel E. Use of a novel 3D culture model to elucidate the role of mesothelial cells, fibroblasts and extra-cellular matrices on adhesion and invasion of ovarian cancer cells. Int J Cancer 2007;121:1463-72.
See abstract

Zillhardt M, Christensen JG, Lengyel E,.
An orally available small-molecule inhibitor of c-Met, PF-2341066, reduces tumor burden and metastasis in a preclinical model of ovarian cancer metastasis
. Neoplasia 2010, 12:1-10
See abstract


BBA cover

This cover displays a figure from
Nieman KM, Romero IL, Van Houten B, Lengyel E Adipose tissue and adipocytes support tumorigenesis and metastasis. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 ct;1831(10):1533-41
See abstract


Dr. Lengyel
Principal Investigator
Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD
Section of Gynecologic Oncology
Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology The University of Chicago

Contact information:

Laboratory Tel.: (773) 702 9763
Office Tel.: (773) 702 6722
Clinical appointments: (773) 702 6123

Geri Cooper, Academic Assistant

Laboratory Location:

Gordon Center for Integrative Science
929 E. 57th St.
1st floor: Rms W106 (office) and W107 (lab)
Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

See map

If you are a patient please contact our clinical ovarian cancer care group:

Location for outpatient visits:
Center for Advanced Medicine
5758 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
See map

Clinical Bio

Ovarian Cancer Treatment at The University of Chicago Medicine

Mailing address:
Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD
Department of OBGYN, MC 2050
Chicago, Ill. 60637, USA

Committee on Cancer Biology Web page

Link to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund

In the News

Drs. Lengyel, Romero and Fleming are co-leaders of a project chosen by the Mayo Clinic Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE). See Project #3

Watch the Society of Gynecologic Oncology video about the University of Chicago Gynecologic Cancer Care Team

Watch the SGO video about clinical trials in gynecological cancer, which features researchers at the University of Chicago

See the feature on the Lengyel lab's 3D model posted on the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences website: Stopping Metastasis in Its Tracks: New 3-D Cell Model Enables Closer Look at Cancer Progression

Radical trachelectomy, performed by Dr. Lengyel, enables a healthy pregnancy after cervical cancer