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 scientists, postdocs, physicians, fellows and students work together to answer important questions in ovarian cancer biology. We meet once/week to discuss research results and new ideas or listen to an invited speaker in our field. The laboratory is directed by Ernst Lengyel MD PhD, and Hilary Kenny, PhD. who 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 and the website of the Section of Gyncologic Oncology. Ernst Lengyel is 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, currently we believe that it is either in the fallopian tube or the ovary. Still cancer cells can also metastasize to the ovary giving the wrong impression that the tumor originates there. 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 from fallopian tube epithelial cells from tumors arising in the fallopian tube. 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 metastasizing to sites outside 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.

Main projects in the laboratory:

  1. Discover the cell of origin of serous ovarian cancer
  2. Understand the early steps of ovarian cancer metastasis to the peritoneum and omentum and study metabolic changes during metastasis
  3. Characterize tumor – stroma interactions in ovarian cancer, including the communications between adipocytes, fibroblasts, mesothelial cells, and cancer cells
  4. Use high throughput screening to identify novel treatments and evaluate the efficacy and mechanisms of new compounds in pre-clinical models to prepare for their translation to the clinic
  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 novel organotypic 3D cultures with primary human omental cells (both normal and cancer-associated). We have also assembled several tissue micro arrays (TMA) with tissue from primary and metastatic ovarian cancers. 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 to inform what we do in the clinic and in the laboratory.

To reach our goals we have formed important collaborations with physicians and scientists. Our collaborators include:

The Peter Laboratory- Marcus E. Peter, Phd:  (miRNA and metastasis)
The Romero Laboratory- Iris Romero, MD, MS:  (Drug repurposing and the role of metformin in ovarian cancer, Meformin neo-adjuvant clinical trial) (NCT02122185).
The Mann Laboratory- T:  (Proteomics and ovarian cancer metastasis)
National Center for Advancing Translational Science  (NCATS) (High throughput screening)
The Moellering Laboratory-Dr. Raymond Moellering: (Metabolomics and ovarian cancer)
Dr. Samuel Volchenboum (Bioinformatics)
Dr. Ricardo R. Lastra (Gynecologic Pathology)
Dr. Josephine Kim, Dr. Nita Lee, Dr. John Moroney and Dr. Diane Yamada  (Gynecologic Oncology Faculty at U of C)

The common goal of everybody working in our or with our laboratory is to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to the clinical arena, so that patients may benefit and we improve survival of women suffering from ovarian cancer

See the NCBI listing of Dr. Lengyel's publications
See his citation index in Google Scholar

Ernst Lengyel and Hilary Kenny
February, 2019

Please E-mail us with questions:

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 


Liu J, Eckert MA, Harada BT, Liu SM, Lu Z, Yu K, Tienda SM, Chryplewicz A, Zhu AC, Yang Y, Huang JT, Chen SM, Xu ZG, Leng XH, Yu XC, Cao J, Zhang Z, Liu J, Lengyel E, He C. m6A mRNA methylation regulates AKT activity to promote the proliferation and tumorigenicity of endometrial cancer. Nature cell biology. 2018; 20(9):1074-1083 The study is listed on the cover
See abstract

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 Cover article. 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. The study is listed on the cover.
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




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 6118

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

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

Read a press release on a study. “Fibroblasts mobilize tumor cell glycogen to promote proliferation and metastasis,” carried out by a multi-center team based in the Lengyel Laboratory. The study was published by Cell Metabolism.

Read the press releaseon a study from the Lengyel Lab with research teams from tMax Plank Institute and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research "Multi-level Proteomics Identifies CT45 as a Chemosensitivity Mediator and Immunotherapy Target in Ovarian Cancer" published in the Sept., 2018 issue of Cell