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Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel, pioneering oncologist who led UT Southwestern’s Division of Hematology and Oncology for 30 years, dies

DALLAS – June 23, 2019 – Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel, an internationally recognized cancer researcher and admired clinician and educator who pioneered UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, died June 21, 2019. He was 89.

Eugene Frenkel, M.D.
Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel

Dr. Frenkel was a National Cancer Institute Investigator known for discoveries linking vitamin B12 metabolism and cancer, and he remained committed to translational cancer research throughout his career. He also was revered for his compassionate bedside care and was highly respected as an academic mentor who supported the career development of countless students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty during a remarkable 57-year career at UT Southwestern. Dr. Frenkel, Professor of Internal Medicine and Radiology, was a Master of the American College of Physicians, a distinction bestowed for the excellence and significance of contributions to the science and art of medicine.

“Dr. Frenkel’s contributions enhanced our scientific understanding of the association between cancer and neural function. His early research led to the discovery that vitamin B12 deficiencies had a destructive effect on the myelin sheath, a covering that surrounds and protects nerve fibers,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, who holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. “In other studies, he helped to define the basis of drug resistance in the treatment of patients with breast and genitourinary cancers. Just as importantly, for decades, he was a medical adviser to legions of Dallasites who came to depend on his wise counsel, even when he was not acting as their physician.”

Dr. Frenkel’s research success attracted support from the scientific community, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Cancer Society, while the high level of personalized care he provided to decades of grateful patients resulted in substantial philanthropic support given in his honor that not only furthered his own research through the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, but he also used to support and advance the careers of junior colleagues.

In 2006, Texas icon and energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens gave $2 million through the T. Boone Pickens Foundation to create the Boone Pickens Fund for Cancer Research and Treatment Honoring Dr. Eugene Frenkel to support translational cancer research. Philanthropic gifts in his honor also created the Eugene Frenkel Outstanding Teacher of the Year award and the Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel Cancer Research Fund. More recently, an anonymous donor established the Eugene P. Frenkel, M.D. Scholars in Clinical Medicine Program, to support the development of the next generation of academic physicians in disciplines related to the care of patients with cancer.

Dr. Frenkel held two distinguished chairs created in his honor – the Raymond D. and Patsy R. Nasher Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, in Honor of Eugene P. Frenkel, M.D., created in 1990, and the Elaine Dewey Sammons Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, in Honor of Eugene P. Frenkel, M.D., established in 2004. He also held the A. Kenneth Pye Professorship in Cancer Research. In 2001, the Sydney and J.L. Huffines Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research in Honor of Eugene Frenkel, M.D., currently held by Dr. Robert Collins, was created.

Projects and funds contributed in his honor include the J.L. Huffines Cancer Research Fund in Honor of Dr. Eugene Frenkel; the Edgar A. Robinson Family Fund in Cancer Research in Honor of Eugene Frenkel, M.D.; the John R. and Mary A. Watson Endowment Fund for Cancer Research in Honor of Eugene Frenkel, M.D.; the John Bunker Sands Fund for Cancer Research Honoring Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel; the Reece A. Overcash, Jr. Center for Research on Colon Cancer, in Honor of Dr. Eugene Frenkel; and the Dr. Eugene P. Frenkel Cancer Research Fund. In 1988, Patsy and Raymond Nasher, renowned Dallas art collectors, donated the Isaac Witkin sculpture titled Sabras, which was placed on the lawn near the Eugene McDermott Academic Administration Building, in honor of Drs. Rhoda and Eugene Frenkel.

The Detroit native earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School (1953) before completing an internship at Wayne County General Hospital (1953-54), as well as an interrupted residency in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital (1954-55) and the University of Michigan Medical School (1957-59). The years between were marked by military service as an officer and flight surgeon in the Air Force.

Dr. Donald Seldin, UT Southwestern’s renowned Chairman of Internal Medicine, recruited Dr. Frenkel to UT Southwestern in 1962 as Chief of the newly created Division of Hematology and Oncology.

“It was sizzling without question,” Dr. Frenkel recalled of the campus in a 2014 interview. “The sense was we have a frontier spirit.”

Dr. Frenkel became a Professor of Internal Medicine in 1969 and received a dual appointment in Radiology in 1973. Dr. Frenkel additionally served as Chief of the Nuclear Medicine Service from 1970 to 1982 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Dallas (now the VA North Texas Health Care System).

He was appointed a Professor of Clinical Oncology by the American Cancer Society from 1973-83; and he held the Emma Freeman Professorship for Research in Radiation Therapy with the American Cancer Society from 1981-90 and served on its Texas Board of Directors throughout the 1980s.

“Dr. Frenkel’s enduring legacy will be remembered by the many patients he so compassionately treated, the generations of medical students who benefited from his rigorous mentoring, and physicians and scientists worldwide who were influenced by his seminal work in medical oncology,” said Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean, UT Southwestern Medical School, who holds the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.