A Black woman puts her hands on her torso. A logo reads Cancer Grand Challenges

Exposomics Research to Investigate Cancer in People of African Origin

March 6, 2024

Cancer Grand Challenges was co-founded in 2020 by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the U.S.—the two largest funders of cancer research in the world—to support global, interdisciplinary research teams to make headway on cancer’s toughest challenges. This week, Cancer Grand Challenges announced funding of up to $25 million to examine social, environmental, and genetic determinants to understand cancer disparities in people of African descent.

The project titled “Societal, Ancestry, Molecular and Biological Analyses of Inequalities: SAMBAI” was one of five new teams announced, chosen from 176 proposals by world-class teams. Gary Miller, Columbia Mailman Vice Dean for Research Strategy and Innovation and director of the Center for Innovative Exposomics, will lead one arm of SAMBAI. He will employ the tools of exposomics—the use of high-resolution mass spectrometry methods to analyze a wide swath of biochemical markers—to better understand the complex environmental factors that contribute to cancer in study populations. 

Led by Melissa Davis, professor and director of the Institute of Translational Genomic Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, SAMBAI will analyze data collected from study participants in the U.S., U.K., and several African nations. It will focus on breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. The team hopes to generate a comprehensive, accurate, and relevant measurement of social, environmental, genetic, and immunological factors that can be used to define the factors that cause and influence disparate outcomes in diverse underserved populations.

“This Cancer Grand Challenges award gives us a unique opportunity to address health disparities on a grand scale using our exposomics platform that systematically analyzes the environmental contributors to cancer,” says Miller, who is also Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a new member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at Columbia University.

“We know that the environment plays a key role in cancer health disparities,” Miller continues. “This study will employ the latest technologies to drill down into the specifics.” The Exposomics Laboratory, housed in the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, provides mass spectrometry services to the Columbia University Irving Medical Center community.

“We are excited to have Dr. Miller as a member of the HICCC. His expertise in exposomics is providing our investigators with new methods to examine the environmental contributors to cancer, including the metabolomics core that he leads, supported by the HICCC. The grant from the Cancer Grand Challenge is evidence of this innovative approach,” said Anil Rustgi, Herbert and Florence Irving Director of the HICCC at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.