Shyamala Gopalan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Shyamala Gopalan
Shyamala Gopalan Harris died 2009.jpg
DiedFebruary 11, 2009 (aged 70–71)
Other namesShyamala Harris
EducationUniversity of Delhi (BS)
University of California, Berkeley (MS, PhD)
Known forBreast cancer research
Spouse(s)Donald Harris (Divorced)
Scientific career
InstitutionsLady Davis Institute for Medical Research
McGill University
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
ThesisThe isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour (1964)

Shyamala Gopalan (1938 - February 11, 2009) was an Indian-American cancer researcher and civil rights activist.

Early life and education[edit]

Shyamala Gopalan was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India to Rajam and P.V. Gopalan, a diplomat of the Indian government.[1][2] She had a culturally enriching childhood with music, art, and travel. Gopalan had two sisters and a brother. As a child, Gopalan won a national gold medal for singing classical Indian music.[2] Tamil was her first language.[3] She enrolled in school as a toddler and graduated with an undergraduate degree from University of Delhi at the age of 19. She earned a doctor of philosophy in nutrition and endocrinology from University of California, Berkeley at the age of 25. While at Berkeley, she was involved in the civil rights movement.[2] Gopalan's dissertation was titled The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour.[4]


Gopalan researched in the Cancer Research Lab in UC Berkeley's Department of Zoology. She worked as a breast cancer researcher at University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin. She worked for 16 years at Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Gopalan served as a peer reviewer for the National Institutes of Health and as a site visit team member for the Federal Advisory Committee. She also served on the President's Special Commission on Breast Cancer. She mentored dozens of students in her lab. For her last decade of research, Gopalan worked in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.[2]


Gopalan's research led to advancements in the knowledge of hormones pertaining to breast cancer.[5][6] Her work in the isolation and characterization of the progesterone receptor gene in mice changed research on the hormone-responsiveness of breast tissue.[6] At Berkeley Laboratory, Gopalan's lab investigated the role of sex steroids in induction of breast cancers.[7]

Personal life[edit]

She married Donald Harris, who later was a professor of economics at Stanford, originally from Jamiaca. They met when he was at Berkeley and both were involved in the civil rights movement.

Gopalan had two daughters, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and lawyer Maya Harris.[2] She insisted on giving her daughters names derived from Indian mythology to help preserve their culture identity.[8]

Gopalan separated from Donald Harris when Kamala was 7 years old.[9] She died of cancer on February 11, 2009. Gopalan was survived by her daughters, mother, and three siblings.[2]


  1. ^ ": The New Face of Politics… An Interview with Kamala Harris". DesiClub. Archived from the original on December 11, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". San Francisco Chronicle. March 22, 2009. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  3. ^ Adam, Sunil. "Dreams from her mother: How Shyamala Gopalan prepared Kamala Harris for the White House". Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  4. ^ Shyamala, Gopalan; Lyman, R. L. (1964). "The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour". Canadian Journal of Biochemistry. 42: 1825–1832. ISSN 0008-4018. PMID 14241616.
  5. ^ Carson, Susan (1985-06-21). "Men still dominate the scientific field". The Gazette. Montreal. p. 27. Retrieved 2019-01-23 – via
  6. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". Breast Cancer Action. 2009-06-21. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  7. ^ "Dr. G. Shyamala". Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  8. ^ "Kamala Harris". The Los Angeles Times. 2004-10-24. p. 108. Retrieved 2019-01-23 – via
  9. ^ Bose, Adrija (2019-01-22). "The Indian-ness of Kamala Harris, the 'Female Barack Obama' Set to Contest the Next US Elections". News18. Retrieved 2019-01-23.