Shankel takes part in 10th version of cancer research conference born at KU

Del Shankel humorously refers to himself as a utility infielder during his long, versatile career at KU. That is, a utility infielder who is a world-renowned expert in antimutagenesis and anticarcinogenesis as well as an interim chancellor and athletic director.

Del Shankel

Shankel recently took part in the 10th International Conference on Mechanisms of Antimutagenesis and Anticarcinogenesis, a conference he launched at KU in 1985. This year’s conference was held in Guaruja, Brazil, about 70 miles east of Sao Paolo. For the first time, it was merged with the International Conference on Nutrigenomics, a relatively new field of study in the biology of cancer.

From the early points of his career, Shankel was studying mutagenesis, or the mutations of cells that can cause cancer. In the early ’70s, he began researching antimutagenesis, or methods that can slow down such mutations. Eventually he moved into the field of anticarcinogenesis, or the study of preventing cell mutations that initiate cancer. Throughout this research, he has worked with students and colleagues such as Les Mitscher in medicinal chemistry. The field was growing and Tsuneo Kada of the National Institute of Genetics in Mishima, Japan, proposed an international conference be held.

It was decided the United States was centrally located between Europe and Asia, and Kansas was centrally located within the United States, so KU was chosen as the home of the first conference. After organizing the first event, Shankel had a hand in organizing subsequent conferences in Japan, Italy and Michigan. This year in Brazil, he presented a history of the conference and chaired a wrap up session. The session featured experts in the field from the National Cancer Institute, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, France and Australia presenting research.

This year’s conference was unique in the fact that it was paired with the conference on nutrigenomics. That field explores the effects of food and food constituents on gene expression and how it could potentially help prevent cancer. Certain foods, such as Japanese green tea, licorice, leafy green vegetables, certain vitamins, blueberries and garlic have chemical components with the ability to prevent or fight cancer.

The next conference will be held in Austria, but Shankel hasn’t decided if he’ll attend. He retired in 1996 after a long career at KU in which he taught, researched and stepped in as interim chancellor and athletics director on more than one occasion. The Structural Biology Center on west campus was named in his honor earlier this year. He now spends his office time advising, serving on committees, editing papers and writing letters of recommendation.

“It’s been a very full life,” he said.

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