2012 Recipient — George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D.

George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D.

Engineering Immune Cells to Better Recognize and Kill Ovarian Cancer

Project Summary

Ovarian cancer and other cancers are able to grow and spread in the body because the immune system cannot destroy them. A key problem with these immune cells’ ability to kill tumor cells is due to receptors, or certain protein molecules, on the surface of immune cells that bind only weakly to tumor cells. Dr. Cukos is developing ways to engineer immune cells to better recognize tumor cells and then to kill them. Dr. Cukos has engineered molecules for immune cells that bind much more tightly to tumor cells and kill them more efficiently than immune cells with normal tumor cell receptors. He is studying these engineered receptors in mouse models of ovarian cancer with the hope that, with further study, they may have potent antitumor effects in women with advanced disease.

Areas of Research:


Dr. Coukos is a tenured Professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and the Director of the Ovarian Cancer Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned an M.D. (cum laude) from the University of Modena (Italy), and a Ph.D. (Reproductive Biology) from the University of Patras School of Medicine (Greece). He is author of more than 150 publications; recipient of numerous awards for research in ovarian cancer; executive member of national and international organizations and foundations devoted to cancer research; and continuously recognized by Best Doctors in America for Cancer since 2007.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Center (OCRC) was launched in January 2007 under his leadership and with support from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The mission of the OCRC is to improve the length and quality of life of women at risk for or with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer through innovative and multidisciplinary research in the areas of detection, prevention or therapy, and through rapid clinical translation of laboratory discoveries. The OCRC has also an educational mission, to develop the next generation of ovarian cancer translational and clinical investigators.