University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Houston, Texas
Visiting Scientist, Department of Pediatrics
Chief Executive Officer, ZIOPHARM Oncology


T-cells are part of the body’s immune system that is responsible for identifying, attacking and destroying diseased cells. However, cancer cells can hide. And in order for T-cells to get rid of cancer, they first have to “see” the cancer. Dr. Cooper and his team of researchers found a way to modify the T-cells collected from a leukemia or lymphoma patient and enable them to “see” the tumor cells.

The research team employed a genetic engineering technique that makes the T-cells carry a “cellular antenna” (chimeric antigen receptor or CAR), which specifically detects a molecule called CD19 that is found on the tumor cell surface of several types of leukemia and lymphoma (including Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Lymphomas of the B-lineage). When the CAR-T cells are fully-equipped and infused back to the same patient, they can mount full-blown immune attacks on tumor cells.

In addition, since cancerous tissues often contain less oxygenated cells, Dr. Cooper is developing an approach to make the engineered CAR-T cells seek out cancer cells specifically in tissues that are less oxygenated. Preliminary laboratory results are very encouraging.

Moving research to patient care, Dr. Cooper’s team recently published their laboratory results from a high throughput device that rapidly makes large numbers of CAR-T cells. Although it is still early in its development, Dr. Cooper predicts the innovative device will provide a faster and safer method for redirecting immune cells. Early in 2015, a new company, ZIOPHARM Oncology, was launched to translate Dr. Cooper’s adoptive immunotherapy approach into new treatments for patients in clinics across the U.S.


Laurence J.N. Cooper, M.D, Ph.D., is a visiting scientist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and CEO of ZIOPHARM Oncology. He graduated from Kenyon College in 1986 and received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He then completed his medical residency at the University of Washington Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center. Dr. Cooper finished his schooling with a fellowship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Dr. Cooper joined the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2006, where his appointments included Tenured Professor in pediatrics and immunology, Section Chief of cell therapy at the Children’s Cancer Hospital and Associate Director at the Center for Cancer Immunology Research.

Dr. Cooper has received numerous awards and honors, including the 1994 Henry F. Sanders’ Award in Pediatrics from Case Western Reserve University, the 1999 Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the 2004 American Society of Gene Therapy Young Investigator Award, the 2010 Best Boss Award at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the 2012 Robert M. Chamberlain Distinguished Mentor Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

He has also authored more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and abstracts, and is a member of many societies and organizations, including the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, the American Society of Hematology, the California Medical Association, the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant, the Harris County Medical Society, the International Society for Biological Therapy of Cancer, the International Society for Cellular Therapy, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, the Follicular Lymphoma Consortium, the National Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Oncology Branch and the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Laurence J.N. Cooper, M.D., Ph.D.

Area of Focus

Cancer Type

Years of NFCR Funding

2004 – 2015

Related Content

New Treatment with Combined Immunotherapies is Effective for Drug Resistant Metastatic Lung Cancer

An Unexpected Opportunity: Erin’s Story

Exercise Training May Slow Tumor Growth and Improve Immunotherapy Outcomes in Breast Cancer Treatment

Exercise plays an important role in preventing a variety of cancers. A recent study has increased the importance of maintaining a well-balanced and active lifestyle – indicating a positive outlook for many breast cancer patients.  National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded scientist Dr. Rakesh Jain, and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that exercise training may slow tumor growth and improve outcomes for females with breast cancer – especially those treated with immunotherapy drugs. Immunotherapy drugs are treatments that use the body’s immune system to fight diseases like cancer. The research team identified this occurrence to be caused by stimulating naturally occurring immune mechanisms.   The team reached this conclusion in animal models of breast cancer, which showed physical activity increasing levels of cancer-fighting immune cells. Tumors in mouse models of human breast cancer grew more slowly in mice put through their paces in a structured aerobic exercise program than in sedentary mice. The tumors in exercised mice exhibited an increased anti-tumor immune response. Perhaps the most exciting finding of the study was that exercise training brought immune cells capable of killing cancer cells into tumors. The tumors grew more slowly in mice that performed exercise training. Dr. Jain has been an NFCR partner since 1998. He is a renowned world expert in understanding how changes in the microenvironment surrounding tumors affect the immune system, drug delivery, treatment efficacy, and patient survival–with additional expertise in chemical engineering. In addition to his fellowship with NFCR, Dr. Jain is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine. He is the ninth person ever to be elected to all three U.S. National Academies. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Academy. Throughout his career, Dr. Jain has also been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. Including the 2012 Science of Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the 2016 National Medal of Science from the President of the United States, Barack Obama. He received the Medal of Science for developing new ways to manipulate tumors. Dr. Jain and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School were able to complete this game-changing research utilizing funding from NFCR. NFCR is dedicated to providing scientists in the lab the funding they need to make game-changing discoveries in cancer treatments, detection, and ultimately, to discover a cure for all types of cancer.  Support innovative and life-saving research findings like the work of Dr. Jain with NFCR. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: NFCR-Supported Researcher Leads Study Aiming to Understand Which Patients May Respond Best to Immunotherapy Immunotherapy: Fighting Cancer and More? Cancer Research Applied to Develop COVID-19 Treatment Strategies Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.