Kamala Harris Visits Lab Where Late Mom Researched Breast Cancer: 'The Basis for a Lot of Great Work'

According to a White House official, Harris also privately met with one of the researchers who collaborated with her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, in the 1980s

Kamala Harris
Doug Emhoff (left) and Kamala Harris. Photo: SARAHBETH MANEY/POOL/AFP via Getty

Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a four-day tour of of Paris on Tuesday with a visit to a lab in which her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, worked in the 1980s, conducting breast cancer research.

Arriving at the Pasteur Institute on Tuesday alongside husband Doug Emhoff, the vice president met with a virologist and a researcher who are studying the various symptoms that arise from those diagnosed with COVID-19.

"Some of the most significant discoveries in science on any issue — from rabies, to HIV/AIDS, to breast cancer, to mRNA and what we do around vaccines and pandemics — have occurred here in collaboration with French scientists, American scientists, scientists from around the world coming together," Harris said during her tour, according to the press pool traveling with her. "And I know this just based on my entire life experience as the daughter of my mother — which is the work happens around the globe and it's collaborative."

Harris also spoke about the work her mom did while working at the Institut Pasteur, which included research detecting early breast cancer.

"The breakthroughs that she was responsible for in the 80s was the basis for a lot of great work," she said.

Kamala Harris

According to a White House official, Harris also privately met on Tuesday with one of the researchers who collaborated with her mother in the 1980s.

As Harris noted during her tour, that research served as a baseline study for the work scientists have continued in an effort to scientists working to cure breast cancer.

According to the The New York Times, Gopalan who received a degree in home science (a catch-all discipline that largely covers home economics and house management) at Lady Irwin College in New Delhi.

After she left Lady Irwin, Gopalan set her sights on America, where she would be able to study biochemistry.

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff at the Pasteur Institut. GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty

Gopalan first met the vice president's father, Donald Harris, in 1962 while both were attending the University of California at Berkeley — he as a doctoral student and she as a scientist.

The two separated five years after their daughter was born. Gopalan died of cancer in 2009.

On Wednesday, the vice president will visit with French leader Emmanuel Macron — an important meeting, as the U.S. works to smooth tensions with its longtime ally over a nuclear submarine deal between the U.S. and Australia. that had French officials crying foul.

The friendship between the two nations hit its rockiest patch in years over what the French foreign minister called a "stab in the back" when the U.S., the U.K. and Australia announced a trilateral deal to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines instead.

That partnership (dubbed AUKUS) threw a wrench in a plan France had been working on for years to sell 12 conventional submarines to Australia through a French shipbuilder, CNN reported.

Kamala Harris, Shyamala Gopalan, Donald Harris
Shyamala Gopalan (left) and Kamala Harris. Kamala Harris/Facebook

The day after the AUKUS partnership was announced, Australia backed away from its agreement with France.

The Times reported that there had been mounting concerns by the Australians that the French ships would be inadequate. France, by contrast, was caught off-guard by its allies.

In September, President Joe Biden spoke to Macron by phone in an apparent bid to ease tensions.

"The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard," the White House said in a statement at the time.

On Tuesday, an official told reporters that Harris meeting was about affirming America's bond with France but not about a submarine-specific entreaty.

"The vice president's focused on moving forward and not looking backward," the official said.

Among four key areas of concern and possible expanded cooperation are space, supply chain, economy and Libya, the official said: "This engagement is important. This is diplomacy."

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