In 1917, when Kamal Ranadive was born in Pune, India, it was rare for a woman to occupy a seat in the local Fergusson College, especially in the sciences. But lucky for Ranadive, her father, who taught in the biology department, encouraged her to pursue an education. She graduated from Fergusson with a bachelor’s of science in 1934 and continued her education to earn a doctorate in cytology from Bombay University.
Though Ranadive’s parents nudged her toward medical school, her roots in biology were firmly planted. She became a biomedical researcher best known for her research on the links between certain cancers and viruses. She was the first scientist to find a genetic component of breast cancer. Additionally, Ranadive studied and helped develop a vaccine for Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes leprosy.
Ranadive’s work was heavily influenced by her fellowship at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, working with renowned cell biologist George Gey on tissue culture. After the fellowship, she returned to the Indian Cancer Research Center (ICRC) in Mumbai, where she established India’s first tissue culture laboratory. As the director of the ICRC, Ranadive was a pioneer in animal modeling of cancer development. Her research led to further understanding of leukemia, breast cancer, and esophageal cancer.
In 1973, Ranadive and eleven of her colleagues founded the Indian Women Scientists’ Association (IWSA). Ranadive retired in 1989 and transitioned to work in Maharashtra’s rural communities training women to work in healthcare and advising the population on health practices and medical care.
Ranadive encouraged Indian scholars and students abroad to return to India and use their knowledge to help local communities. Thanks to Ranadive’s influence and contributions, the IWSA now has eleven chapters in India and provides scholarships and childcare options for women in science.
Ranadive died on April 11, 2001. Her widespread research continues to contribute to the discovery of improvements in medicine and cancer treatments today.