Shyamala Gopalan – biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

IntroIndian-American cancer researcher and civil rights activist
A.K.A.Shyamala Gopalan Harris, Shyamala G. Harris, Shyamala Harris, Gopalan …
Was Scientist 
From United States of America 


Birth 1938, Chennai, India
Death 11 February 2009
(aged 71 years)
Children: Kamala Harris 
Maya Harris 

Shyamala Gopalan (April 7, 1938 – February 11, 2009) was an Indian-American-Canadian cancer researcher and civil rights activist who was born in India.

Early life and education

Shyamala Gopalan was born on April 7, 1938 in Madras, Madras Presidency, in British India (present-day city of Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) to Rajam and P.V. Gopalan. Gopalan had two sisters and a brother. As a child, Gopalan won a national gold medal for singing Indian classical music. 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. Gopalan’s dissertation was titled The isolation and purification of a trypsin inhibitor from whole wheat flour.


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.


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

Personal life

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.

Gopalan had two daughters, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and lawyer Maya Harris. She insisted on giving her daughters Sanskrit names derived from Hindu mythology to help preserve their cultural identity.

Gopalan died of colon cancer in 2009.