Objective. Primary ovarian cancer cells obtained from fresh tumor have many advantages over established cell lines. Therefore, a procedure for the specific and efficient purification of such neoplastic cells is critical. We report an effective immunomagnetic method for the isolation of tumor cells from the ascitic fluid of patients diagnosed with ovarian adenocarcinoma. Methods. This procedure incorporates the use of monoclonal antibody (mAb) CC49, which recognizes the tumor-associated glycoprotein 72 (TAG-72). TAG-72 is highly expressed on ovarian tumor cell surfaces with little or no reactivity with normal tissues. Also used in this protocol are immunomagnetic beads, which bind to the CC49 mAb via a secondary antibody. When ovarian cancer cells adhere to the magnetic beads, a magnetic field is used to separate the tumor cells from all other cellular components. Results. Using ascitic fluid from five patients, we found that preparations before purification contained between 38 and 52% neoplastic cells. Using our method, we produced preparations that were between 63 and 96% pure for cancer cells, thus obtaining an average increase in tumor cell enrichment of 86%. Conclusion. We, therefore, believe this method is preferable for producing high yields of pure ovarian neoplastic cells. We are now employing this technique in our laboratory to provide a stringent and pure template for our studies on gene transfer to primary ovarian cancer cells. © 2001 Academic Press.