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Melissa B. Davis, PhD

Weill Cornell Medical College
New York, New York

Titles and Affiliations

Director, Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine
Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Immunology
Morehouse School of Medicine
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery
Scientific Director, International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes

Health Equity Initiative

Research area

Identifying social and biological determinants of breast cancer outcomes in Black women.


Black women are 41 percent more likely to die from their breast cancer than white women. This is due, in part, to a lack of diversity in genomics research that propagates a paucity of equitable therapeutic/diagnostic options to serve a diverse population of breast cancer patients. Dr. Davis’ team will study the relationships between ancestry, the tumor microenvironment, social determinants of health, and breast cancer survival to address this disparity.

Progress Thus Far

The team has made significant progress in the optimization and standardization of procedures for their analytical models and tests to quantify circulating markers of inflammation, obesity, and diabetes. Their preliminary findings show compelling evidence that inflammatory and genomic signatures vary across the geographic areas for patients in their recruitment sites and that there are associations with inflammatory signatures and African-specific gene mutations and tumor biology.

What’s next

Her team will utilize tissue, blood, and saliva samples from a group of 100+ patients with breast cancer of African descent. They will focus on the immune cells within the tumor microenvironment and assess how they influence tumor response to treatment. Her team will also examine how social determinants of health such as obesity, diet, and psychosocial health may influence the tumor microenvironment to alter immune responses. These analyses in concert with patient outcomes data will help identify how multiple factors can influence breast cancer disparities.


Melissa B. Davis, PhD serves as the Director of the Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine and Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Immunology at Morehouse School of Medicine. She is Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery, Scientific Director of the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes (ICSBCS), and Director of Health Equity for the Englander Institute of Precision Medicine and Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Department of Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, NY.

Dr. Davis received her Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics at the University of Georgia where she completed groundbreaking work in model organisms on developmental functions of steroid signaling during Drosophila metamorphosis. Her postdoctoral training in Functional Genomics and Systems Biology at Yale School of Medicine (Human Genetics) and the University of Chicago (Human Genetics and Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology) led to key elements of the ModENCODE project, showing the genome-wide and tissue-specific dynamics of hormone receptor binding. In addition, her postdoctoral training in Cancer Health Disparities at University of Chicago at the Interdisciplinary Center for Health Disparities led to her current work on biological determinants of cancer health disparities.

She began her current research program with specific focus in breast cancer, expanding into prostate and gynecological cancers in recent years. Dr. Davis is a pioneer in the field of “disparities genomics,” including findings that uncovered unique genetic signatures and epigenetic mechanisms, in both breast and prostate tumors of African and African American patients. Specifically, her work indicates that mechanisms associated with aggressive tumor progression, including cell signaling and immunological responses, are associated with genetic ancestry. Her current findings involve utilizing quantified ancestry to unravel genetic vs environmental influences in tumor biology among race/ethnic groups. Dr. Davis has uncovered novel opportunities to develop precision medicine applications in minority populations, including lending her expertise to co-lead the Polyethnic 1000 projects, as an Ethnicity Scholar for the New York Genome Center, a concerted effort to increase knowledge of genomic profiles of underrepresented minority cancer patients. Her work is a prime example of how inclusion of diverse ethnic groups can empower research design for discovery of novel genetic risk and gene network modifications that result in unique tumor biology.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

Estée Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation

The Delta Air Lines Award