2012 and 2008 Program Project Development Grant Recipient – George Coukos

George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania Medical Center
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.

Bio

George Coukos, M.D., Ph.D., is a tenured Associate Professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and also directs the Gynecologic Malignancy Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Coukos also serves as Director of Gynecology Service at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Philadelphia. In 2005, Dr. Coukos was appointed the Celso Ramon Garcia Chair in Reproductive Biology, and, in 2007, the Center for Research on the Early Detection and Cure for Ovarian Cancer was established with Dr. Coukos as its Director.

Dr. Coukos is best known for his effort and contributions in translational research on understanding the immune system’s response to ovarian cancer. Dr. Coukos’ findings provide the first proof that a spontaneous immune response against the tumor dramatically impacts the clinical course of ovarian cancer. His current research interests focus on three areas that revolve around the overarching theme of the tumor microenvironment: tumor immune surveillance and tolerance; immune-vascular interactions; and microenvironment editing by tumor cells. Dr. Coukos is currently involved in preclinical research focused on the development and optimization of combinatorial biological therapies and is involved in clinical trials testing immune therapies against ovarian cancer.

He earned an M.D. (cum laude) from the University of Modena in Italy and a Ph.D. in Reproductive Biology from the University of Patras School of Medicine in Greece. He completed his Obstetrics and Gynecology residency and a clinical fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and is board-certified in both.