Ovarian Cancer Research Laboratory

Research Summary: 

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 a collaborative environment in the laboratory, where scientists, postdocs, physicians, fellows, and students work together to answer critical questions in ovarian cancer biology. We meet once a 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 – a clinically active gynecologic oncologist with a special focus on the surgical treatment of ovarian cancer; and Hilary Kenny, PhD – a Research Associate Professor whose work focuses on elucidating the role of the tumor microenvironment in ovarian cancer development and metastasis. Drs. Lengyel and Kenny have worked together successfully since 2005.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth 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 an incurable recurrence at some point in their cancer journey. For clinical information about ovarian cancer and ovarian mass treatments, please visit the University of Chicago Medicine’s Gynecologic Oncology webpage.

Main projects in the laboratory:

  1. Discover the cell of origin of serous ovarian cancer
  2. Characterize tumor-stroma interactions in ovarian cancer, including the communications between adipocytes, fibroblasts, mesothelial cells, immune, and cancer cells
  3. Utilize advanced spatial transcriptomics, methylation sequencing, metabolomics and spatial proteomics methods to gain further insights into ovarian cancer biology and develop tools for ovarian cancer detection and treatment
  4. Use low- and high- throughput screening to identify and evaluate the efficacy of genes and new compounds in pre-clinical models

Our research is bedside to bench using 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. We have also assembled tissue micro arrays (TMA) of 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.


To reach our goals we have formed important collaborations with physicians and scientists. The common goal of everybody working in or with our laboratory is to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to the clinical arena, so we may improve the survival of women suffering from ovarian cancer. Our collaborators include: 


Join the Ovarian Cancer Laboratory: 

We have job openings for research assistants and postdoctoral scientists. Email us your CV if you're interested in joining our team:


Post-doctoral Scholar Positions in Spatial ‘Omics’ and Ovarian Cancer Biology

The Ovarian Cancer Research Laboratory led by Drs. Lengyel and Kenny is seeking highly motivated postdocs to join our laboratory’s efforts to understand human ovarian cancer biology. Our laboratory studies the role of the microenvironment in ovarian cancer development and progression; using knowledge gained to develop novel treatments for metastatic ovarian cancer. The postdoc will have the opportunity to work in a multi-disciplinary environment in close collaboration with physicians, device fabrication engineers, statisticians, and molecular and systems biologists at the University of Chicago.

The postdoc will map all cell types in the female reproductive system and ovarian cancer tumors with a focus on site-specific cell-cell interactions, their response to environmental cues, and their role in ovarian cancer pathogenesis and progression. We aim to evaluate the function of different cell types using state-of-the-art, high-throughput ‘omics’ techniques.

Job Requirements:

· PhD, MD, or equivalent doctoral degree in systems biology, molecular biology, cancer biology, biochemistry, chemical or biomedical engineering

· Record of scientific achievement through publications and presentations

· Strong track record in design and execution of experiments and a passion for translational science

· Excellent written and spoken communication skills in English

· Ability to conduct research independently; interest in mechanistic research

· Superb problem solving skills

· Exceptional interpersonal skills

· Impeccable wet lab skills

· Experience with flow cytometry, optical microscopy, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence, molecular biology, and sequencing are strongly desired

· Familiarity with spatial proteomics and bioinformatics will be advantageous

Please email Ernst Lengyel at with a brief statement regarding research interests, CV, and a list of two references with their email addresses.




R35 Outstanding Investigator Award

  • NIH/NCI Principal Investigator: E. Lengyel
  • Title: “Metabolic reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment and therapy resistance
  • Specific Aim: The goal of the proposal is to understand the role metabolism in tumor cells and the tumor microenvironment

2020 – 2024

Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative

  • Principal Investigator:  E. Lengyel, Co-PIs: U of C faculty: Drs. Basu, Weigert, Chen
  • Title: A single cell atlas of the female reproductive tract
  • Specific Aim: Characterize all normal cells in the reproductive tract of postmenopausal women

2006 – 2025

Bears Care (NFL Chicago Bears)

  • Principal Investigators: E. Lengyel and H. Kenny
  • Title: “Investigating the Role of the Immune Microenvironment in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer”
  • Specific Aim: To develop a 3D organotypic model of the ovarian cancer tumor microenvironment for drug screening.

2022 – 2024


  • Principal Investigator:  E. Lengyel and H. Kenny
  • Title: “Defining the Heterogenous Immune Landscape of the Ovarian Cancer Tumor Microenvironment”
  • Specific Aim: The goal of this proposal is to identify drugs that activate the immune microenvironment in ovarian cancer tumors.

2024 – 2025

Tina's Wish Associate 

  • Principal Investigator:  E. Lengyel and C. He
  • Title: “Multimodal Plasma- and Imaging-Based Biomarkers for Ovarian Cancer Detection”
  • Specific Aim: To identify cell free DNA and imaging biomarkers to distinguish benign from cancerous adnexal masses.

2023 – 2026

Janet Burros Ovarian Cancer Initiative

  • Principal Investigator: E. Lengyel
  • Title: “Understanding Molecular Differences between Low-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer and High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer and Study if the Novel Targets Can Be Used for Therapy”
  • Specific Aim: To identify new therapeutic targets for Low-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer



Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD

Arthur L. and Lee G. Herbst Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology


Ovarian Cancer Research News

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology