Rollins Researcher to Examine Cancer Inequities with Cancer Grand Challenges Grant

March 6, 2024
Lauren McCullough


By Rob Spahr

Lauren McCullough, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Winship Cancer Institute, is part of an international team that has received a $25 million grant. Funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute, through Cancer Grand Challenges, the team's project will help address cancer disparities in populations of African ancestry.

McCullough is part of a research team called SAMBAI (Societal, Ancestry, Molecular and Biological Analyses of Inequalities) that will investigate the determinants of health, environmental exposures, genetic contributions, and tumor biology to understand the complex interactions between genetics, environment, and social factors in cancer outcomes.

“I am honored to be part of this international team of investigators centered on achieving health justice for persons of African descent,” McCullough says. “Quantifiable measures of social and structural determinants of health are severely lacking in African nations. We are excited to build a robust database that captures these data and can be used to inform health equity more broadly. Combined with robust genomic data the SAMBAI infrastructure will yield unparalleled insights in this population and serve as a resource for generations of scientists.”

This team of researchers from across the United States, Ghana, South Africa, and the United Kingdom will be led by Morehouse School of School of Medicine’s Melissa B. Davis, PhD, and will also focus on breast cancer, particularly among Black women. While white women have higher incidence of breast cancer, Black women are more frequently diagnosed with advanced disease and have a higher incidence of aggressive forms of breast cancer.

“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,” Davis says.

McCullough will lead the overall design of the SAMBAI cohort, assessment of social and structural determinants of health, and development of the participant questionnaire. Working closely with the SAMBAI collaborators and her team at Rollins, McCullough will help secure and deploy monitoring equipment to help quantify environmental and lifestyle drivers of cancer inequities.

The project is one of five funded this year by Cancer Grand Challenges, which is in its fourth funding round of supporting diverse teams of world-class researchers in uniting and thinking differently to take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges

“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,” says David Scott, PhD, 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.”