Dr. Melissa Davis

MSM Researcher’s Global Team Wins $25 Million Cancer Grand Challenges Award

Focusing on cancer inequities, Team SAMBAI, led by Dr. Melissa Davis, is the only winning team in the U.S. led by an African American woman.

ATLANTA, GA – March 6, 2024 – Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) today announced Team SAMBAI, a global team led by Melissa B. Davis, PhD, director of the MSM Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine, has been awarded a $25 million grant funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute, through Cancer Grand Challenges, to address cancer disparities in populations of African ancestry, becoming the first Cancer Grand Challenge awardee to focus on cancer inequities.

Called Team SAMBAI (Societal, Ancestry, Molecular and Biological Analyses of Inequalities), Dr. Davis is leading an interdisciplinary research group from the United States, Ghana, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The award not only marks the first one to focus on health disparities and to be led by an African American woman, but it is also the first one awarded to a researcher at a Historically Black Medical School and is the first one given to a host institution in MSM’s home state of Georgia.

“We are so incredibly proud of Dr. Davis’ leadership in directing the effort to create a truly historic and precedent setting winning proposal to Cancer Grand Challenges that holds the potential to have a tremendous impact on how we treat cancer for people with African ancestry,” said MSM President and CEO Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice. “For nearly 50 years, the driving mission of Morehouse School of Medicine has been to address health inequities for communities of color, and we are honored to have the unique opportunity to carry that mission forward in partnership with Cancer Grand Challenges.”

“I want to extend my appreciation to Cancer Research UK, the National Cancer Institute, Cancer Grand Challenges, my Team SAMBAI colleagues around the world, and my Morehouse School of Medicine family on being selected one of five world-class global research teams to win this award,” said Dr. Davis. “We are looking forward to engaging into what we hope will be groundbreaking research that will shift the paradigm for cancer inequity amongst people of African descent and hopefully helping to save lives in the future.”

Team SAMBAI Members:

  • Melissa Davis, Team Lead, Morehouse School of Medicine, United States
  • Yaw Bediako, Yemaachi Biotech, Ghana
  • Tiffany Carson, Moffitt Cancer Center, United States
  • Isidro Cortes Ciriano, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, United Kingdom
  • Zodwa Dlamini, University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • Olivier Elemento, Cornell University, United States
  • Rick Fairley, TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance, United States
  • Fieke Froeling, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • Marcin Imielinski, New York University, United States
  • Sheeba Irshad, King’s College London, United Kingdom
  • Lauren McCullough, Emory University, United States
  • Gary Miller, Columbia University, United States
  • Nigel Mongan, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
  • Nicolas Robine, New York Genome Center, United States
  • Clayton Yates, John Hopkins University, United States

The Team SAMBAI proposal integrates social determinants of health, environmental exposures, genetic contributions, and tumor biology to understand the complex interactions between genetics, environment, and social factors in cancer outcomes. The proposal also highlights the importance of patient partnership, advocacy, and support in addressing cancer disparities.

The proposal also focuses on breast cancer, particularly among Black women. While Black women have a slightly lower incidence rate of breast cancer compared to White women, they are more frequently diagnosed with advanced disease and have a higher incidence of aggressive forms of breast cancer, such as estrogen receptor (ER) negative (Triple-Negative) disease. This contributes to racial disparities in breast cancer outcomes.

“Together with our network of visionary partners and research leaders, Cancer Grand Challenges unites the world's brightest minds across boundaries and disciplines and aims to overcome cancer’s toughest problems,” said Dr. David Scott, Director of Cancer Grand Challenges. “With this investment, our largest to date, we continue to grow our global research community, and fund new teams that have the potential to surface discoveries that could positively impact cancer outcomes.”

Now in its fourth funding round, this year Cancer Grand Challenges funded five global teams providing up to $25 million in grants per team over five years for a wide range of research projects including cancer inequities, early-onset cancers, solid tumors in children and T-cell receptors.

For more information on Team SAMBAI, its members, and their approach to tackling the cancer inequities challenge, visit https://cancergrandchallenges.org/.

About Morehouse School of Medicine

Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists, and public health professionals. An independent and private historically-Black medical school, MSM was recognized by the Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation's number one medical school in fulfilling a social mission — leading the creation and advancement of health equity to achieve health justice. Morehouse School of Medicine's faculty and alumni are noted for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, as well as exceptional patient care. MSM is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctoral and master's degrees. To learn more about programs and donate today, please visit www.msm.edu or call 404-752-1500.

About Cancer Grand Challenges

Co-founded in 2020 by two of the largest funders of cancer research in the world: Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US, Cancer Grand Challenges supports a global community of world-class, interdisciplinary teams to come together, think differently and take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges. These are the obstacles that continue to impede progress and no one scientist, institution or country will be able to solve them alone. With awards of up to $25M, Cancer Grand Challenges teams are empowered to rise above the traditional boundaries of geography and discipline to make the progress against cancer we urgently need.


Jamille Bradfield
Director, External Communications, Media Relations & Crisis Communications
Morehouse School of Medicine