Human ovarian cancer, the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancy, tends to remain localized to the peritoneal cavity until late in the disease. In established disease, ascitic fluid accumulates in the peritoneal cavity. We have previously demonstrated that this ascitic fluid is a potent source of in vitro mitogenic activity including at least one unique growth factor. We now report that the human ovarian adenocarcinoma line, HEY, can be induced to grow intraperitoneally in immunodeficient nude mice in the presence (23/28 mice), but not absence (0/21 mice) of ascitic fluid from ovarian cancer patients. Ascitic fluid from patients with benign disease did not have similar effects on intraperitoneal growth of HEY cells (1/15 mice). Once tumors were established by injections of exogenous ascitic fluid, they could progress in the absence of additional injections of ascitic fluid. The mice eventually developed ascitic fluid which contained potent growth factor activity, suggesting that the tumors eventually produced autologous growth factors. This nude mouse model provides a system to study the action of ovarian cancer growth factors on tumor growth in vivo and to evaluate preclinically, therapeutic approaches designed to counteract the activity of these growth factors.