Shyamala Gopalan

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Shyamala Gopalan
Shyamala Gopalan Harris died 2009.jpg
BornApril 7, 1938
Madras, Madras Presidency, British India (present-day Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India)
DiedFebruary 11, 2009(2009-02-11) (aged 70)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Other namesShyamala Harris
Known forBreast cancer research
Spouse(s)Donald Harris (divorced)
Scientific career
ThesisThe isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour (1964)

Shyamala Gopalan (April 7, 1938 – February 11, 2009) was an Indian-American cancer researcher and civil rights activist.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Shyamala Gopalan was born on April 7, 1938[citation needed] in Madras, Madras Presidency, in British India (present-day Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) to Rajam and P.V. Gopalan.[2][3] Gopalan had two sisters and a brother. As a child, Gopalan won a national gold medal for singing Indian classical music.[3] She graduated with an undergraduate degree from Lady Irwin College[4] of 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.[3] Gopalan's dissertation was titled The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour.[5]


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.[3]


Gopalan's research led to advancements in the knowledge of hormones pertaining to breast cancer.[6][7] Her work in the isolation and characterization of the progesterone receptor gene in mice changed research on the hormone-responsiveness of breast tissue.[7] At Berkeley Laboratory, Gopalan's lab investigated the role of sex steroids in induction of breast cancers.[8]

Personal life[edit]

She married Donald Harris, who later was a professor of economics at Stanford, originally from Jamaica. They met when he was at Berkeley and both were involved in the civil rights movement. The couple divorced when their daughter Kamala was 7 years old. [9]

Gopalan had two daughters, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and lawyer Maya Harris.[3] She insisted on giving her daughters Tamil names derived from Hindu culture to help preserve their cultural identity.[10]

Gopalan died of colon cancer in 2009.[3]


  1. ^ Sreevatsan, Ajai (November 28, 2010). "California's next A-G, city's pride". The Hindu. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  2. ^ "The New Face of Politics… An Interview with Kamala Harris". DesiClub. Archived from the original on December 11, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". San Francisco Chronicle. March 22, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  4. ^ "The progressive Indian grandfather who inspired Kamala Harris". Shashank Bengali, Melanie Mason. Los Angeles Times. October 25, 2019. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  5. ^ Shyamala, Gopalan; Lyman, R. L. (1964). "The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour". Canadian Journal of Biochemistry. 42 (12): 1825–1832. doi:10.1139/o64-194. ISSN 0008-4018. PMID 14241616.
  6. ^ Carson, Susan (June 21, 1985). "Men still dominate the scientific field". The Gazette. Montreal. p. 27. Retrieved January 23, 2019 – via
  7. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". Breast Cancer Action. June 21, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  8. ^ "Dr. G. Shyamala". Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  9. ^ "Donald Harris, Kamala Harris's Dad, Is a Renowned Stanford Professor".
  10. ^ "Kamala Harris". The Los Angeles Times. October 24, 2004. p. 108. Retrieved January 23, 2019 – via