Melissa Davis, Ph.D.
Morehouse School of Medicine
Melissa Davis is a highly accomplished scientist investigating the biology behind disparities in disease, most notably, cancer. She examines who’s more at risk for cancer, who’s more likely to have better outcomes – and why.
Many of these answers are genetic. In studying tumors in people who are African as well as African American, Davis spotted a connection between genetic signatures in breast cancer and prostate cancer tumors and how aggressively they grew. This discovery opened the door to novel ways to tailor treatment approaches to minority populations.
In fall 2022, Davis published a paper that revealed another important connection — this time, a genetic link between Triple-Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) and women of African ancestry. Many of these women have a genetic mutation, called Duffy null, that affects a particular gene, named DARC. Because the gene plays a role in regulating how the body’s immune system responds to certain threats, women with both Triple-Negative Breast Cancer and the Duffy null mutation have very different immune responses from women without the mutation.
When genetic differences like these are better understood, modern medicine can adjust prevention, screening and treatment of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer and other diseases in different populations.
Davis began her exploration of TNBC as a postdoc at the University of Chicago. There, she contributed to a study that revealed differences in survival rates between patients with breast cancer in the northern part of the city and those on the south side. The characteristics of tumors in the two groups were different, too – and black women were far more likely to have TNBC than their white counterparts.
Davis joined MSM in 2023 from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, NY, where she served as scientific director of the International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes (ICSBCS) and led the health equity division for the Englander Institute of Precision Medicine. At MSM, she will serve as director of the new Institute for Genomic Medicine.
She earned her B.S. degree from Albany State University and her Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the University of Georgia.