Shyamala Gopalan

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Shyamala Gopalan
Shyamala Gopalan Harris died 2009.jpg
BornApril 7, 1938
DiedFebruary 11, 2009(2009-02-11) (aged 70)
Other namesShyamala Harris
EducationUniversity of Delhi (BS)
University of California, Berkeley (MS, PhD)
Known forBreast cancer research
Spouse(s)Donald Harris (divorced)
ChildrenKamala Harris
Maya Harris
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 (April 7, 1938 – February 11, 2009) was an American cancer researcher and civil rights activist who was born in India.

Early life and education[edit]

Shyamala Gopalan was born on April 7, 1938 [1] in Madras city, Madras Province, in India, then under British rule (now the city of 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 classical Indian music.[3] She 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.[3] 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.[3]


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 Jamaica. 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.[3] She insisted on giving her daughters Sanskrit names derived from Indian mythology to help preserve their cultural identity.[8]

Gopalan died of colon cancer in 2009.[3]


  1. ^
  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Carson, Susan (June 21, 1985). "Men still dominate the scientific field". The Gazette. Montreal. p. 27. Retrieved January 23, 2019 – via
  6. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Dr. Shyamala G. Harris". Breast Cancer Action. June 21, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  7. ^ "Dr. G. Shyamala". Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  8. ^ "Kamala Harris". The Los Angeles Times. October 24, 2004. p. 108. Retrieved January 23, 2019 – via