Video file



Understand the mechanisms through which genetics, biology, and social determinants affect cancer risk and outcomes in diverse populations, to motivate interventions to reduce cancer inequities  

Founders' logos
Melissa Davis

Professor Melissa Davis, Team Lead

Director, Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine

Morehouse School of Medicine




Ghana, South Africa, UK, US


Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute


computational biology, epidemiology, exposomics, genomics, immunology

Societal, ancestry, molecular and biological analyses of inequalities

Funded by:

CRUK NCI funders

SAMBAI will generate a comprehensive database with measurements of social, environmental, genetic and immunological factors that cause and influence disparate cancer outcomes in underserved populations of African descent. 

Inequities in cancer prevention, screening and treatment lead to disparities in cancer incidence and mortality and are major public-health challenges. Because the relative contributions of genetic/epigenetic, biological and social drivers of cancer aetiology remain unclear, approaches aimed at reducing inequities remain inadequate. A crucial step in reaching cancer equity is fully understanding all aspects underpinning disparities, from environment to intrinsic biology. 

SAMBAI is taking a multi-level, interdisciplinary approach to build the SAMBAI Biobank and Data Repository for Cancer Equity Research, spanning diverse cohorts of African descent from regions of Africa, the UK and the US. This unprecedented resource will enable an integrated set of analyses to define the factors that influence disparate outcomes in these populations.   

The team will focus on breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers – three cancer types that have a disproportionately higher rate of aggressive tumour grade and early onset in Black people – and aims to deliver a data repository with millions of data features per person for 40,000 people.  

Tackling the Cancer Inequities challenge

SAMBAI’s comprehensive and systematic approach spans four levels of data: 

  1. Social determinants

Using multiple modalities, the team will collect data on the social determinants of health and reset the way these factors are measured, to accurately document the lived experience of underserved populations of African descent.  

Social determinants will be assessed across multiple levels using qualitative and quantitative metrics, including individual and lifestyle behaviours; socio-cultural experiences, such as social interactions, social support, caregiving roles and encounters of racism; characteristics of the immediate environment, including housing quality, neighbourhood safety and access to healthy food; and structural-political determinants, such as government policies, laws, economic and healthcare systems, and employment opportunities.  

  1. Exposomics

To understand the biological consequences of the lived environment on health and disease, the team will measure and quantify, on a molecular scale, the external and internal factors that these populations are exposed to (the exposome). Using mass spectrometry, the team will collect data on thousands of exogenous and endogenous molecules to identify risk factors relevant to these populations. 

  1. Genomics

Using whole-genome and RNA sequencing, the team will map the genetic diversity in populations of African descent alongside the social determinants and exposome data to identify distinct genetic factors contributing to cancer inequities. In addition to DNA sequence analyses, the team will look at epigenetics to determine whether external exposures based on lived experience have imprinted on the germline and tumour genomes.    

  1. Immune profiling

Stress caused by structural racism, discrimination and marginalisation has been mechanistically linked to elevated systemic inflammation in African Americans and other populations in socially deprived settings, which may correlate with observed population differences in tumour immune profiles. The team will look at the immune cells and inflammatory proteins present in circulation and within tumours of a subset of patients in the SAMBAI cohort, stratified by social factors and environmental exposures, to identify social/environmental mechanisms that influence cancer immunological profiles.  

SAMBAI’s data repository will be the first dataset encompassing this breadth of information (or factors) for populations of African descent. By using the dataset to delve into the factors that are causing cancer disparities, SAMBAI hopes its findings will inform policies and generate opportunities for intervention specific to these populations.  

The team’s patient advocates will play an integral role in engaging with patient communities and facilitating policy changes for effective intervention. 

Melissa Davis

Professor Melissa Davis, Team Lead

Director, Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine

Our work will be a catalyst for exponential change. In partnership with patients, the resources we will create can galvanise the work of many other groups. We will reposition important research questions in a better scope, with comprehensive data, that represents a global context.

Plain language summary

Advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment have not benefited all people across race and ethnic groups. These cancer inequities are a major concern in public health. They occur because some people live in unhealthy environments and have less access to healthcare than others. These social factors can lead to more aggressive cancers and delay diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, the genetics and biology of specific populations may also contribute to inequities. However, these factors have not been equally studied across populations. 

The SAMBAI team is dedicated to studying populations of African descent in Africa, the UK and the US. By working with patient communities, the team will gather data on individuals’ social circumstances, environments, genetics and the immune cells within their tumours. All this data will be stored in the anonymised SAMBAI Biobank and Data Repository for Cancer Equity Research. The team’s specific focus is on breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers, as these types of cancer are typically more aggressive and are diagnosed at an earlier age in Black individuals. 

Through detailed profiles of each participant in their research, SAMBAI aims to determine how genetics, the environment and social factors combine and interact to influence cancer outcomes and disparities within these populations. With this knowledge, the team aspires to develop strategies for cancer prevention and treatment tailored to these specific communities. 

Melissa Davis
Yaw Bediako
Dr Tiffany Carson
Dr Isidro Cortes Ciriano
Dr Zodwa Dlamini
Dr Olivier Elemento
Ricki Fairley
Dr Fieke Froeling
Dr Marcin Imieliński
Dr Sheeba Irshad
Dr. Lauren E. McCullough
Dr Gary Miller
Dr Nigel Mongan
Dr Nicolas Robine
Dr Clayton Yates