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Dr. Grant Pierce

Dr. Grant Pierce

Executive Director of Research
St. Boniface Hospital

Principal Investigator
Cell Biology Laboratory, Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

Professor of Physiology and Pharmacy
University of Manitoba

Research Focus

There are currently 4 research selections being followed within our laboratory:

1) We are interested in the role that dietary flaxseed may play in providing significant benefits to our cardiovascular health. We have initiated several studies investigating the effects of flaxseed on cardiovascular performance in animals. We are continuing to investigate its effects in humans in both healthy populations and in those with clinical symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

2) We are interested in the role of sodium calcium exchange in ischemia reperfusion injury. Using molecular approaches to increase or decrease the expression of the sodium calcium exchanger, we continue a long standing interest in understanding the ionic basis of ischemic reperfusion damage to the heart.

3) We are interested in the role of infection and inflammation on cardiovascular disease. Specifically, we examine how infectious agents like Chlamydia pneumonia may promote atherosclerosis in in vitro and in vivo models.

4) We are interested in the factors that regulate nuclear protein import in vascular smooth muscle cells. The movement of proteins into the nucleus represents signaling information that can influence cell growth. We are interested in the processes that regulate this signaling during healthy development and during disease conditions.

Why is this work important?

Our work investigates the basic mechanisms that may be responsible for modifying, inducing or preventing cardiovascular disease. Our research is unique in that it attempts to go from bench to bedside in a number of studies employing not only cell biology and molecular biology techniques to improve our understanding of cardiovascular health, but also dietary interventions to delay or prevent the development of cardiovascular disease processes.

What techniques and equipment are used in this laboratory?

We have a basic cell biology laboratory that employs many different biochemical and molecular biology techniques to obtain information. This includes the use of adenoviruses, siRNA, cell culture, organ culture, tissue perfusion in both vascular tissue, cardiac muscle and adipose tissue. We routinely use gel electrophoresis, western blots, northern blots, HPLC, GC, langendorf and tissue perfusion of arterial rings and isolated hearts, as well as a variety of other techniques.

About Dr. Grant Pierce

Dr. Grant Pierce has published ~200 manuscripts that have attracted more than 4000 citations. His past work focused on the identification of a cardiomyopathy in diabetes and on Na/H exchange as an important mechanism responsible for ischemic heart disease. He is currently interested in nuclear protein import as a mechanism for cell growth in the cardiovascular system, on the relationship of infection and inflammation with atherosclerosis, and on the potential for nutraceuticals and functional foods to alter cardiovascular disease. He is the Executive Director of Research at St Boniface Hospital and Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology.

For more information, please contact:

Executive Director of Research, St. Boniface Hospital
Professor of Physiology and Pharmacy
University of Manitoba

Phone. 204.235.3206
Fax. 204.235.0793

Searching for the key to how cells grow or die

Most disease processes include an alteration in the rate of cell death or of cell growth. Cells may grow by simply getting larger or they may grow by dividing into more cells. The majority of deaths from heart failure and stroke – some 70% — are due to atherosclerotic blockages. Cells in these blockages are known to have accelerated rates of both cell growth and cell death at different stages of the development of these blockages. The goal of our research in this program is to understand how the cell controls these life/death processes through a signaling process into the cell nucleus. The nucleus of a cell contains all of the genetic material of the cell. This is where the genes are turned off and on and where the process of making new proteins is initiated or stopped. This process allows the cell to adapt to its changing environment and demands. The movement of signaling proteins into and out of the nucleus to turn the genes on or off then becomes an important switch to regulate cell life and death. These signaling proteins move into the nucleus through giant pores or channels. Dr Pierce’s research focusses on how this transport is controlled, what factors alter it and if this movement of proteins through the nuclear channels is involved in diseases like atherosclerotic heart disease. This is a major focus of his laboratory’s studies.

Understanding the association of infectious disease with heart disease

Atherosclerosis is the process whereby lipid-filled cells invade and block the artery and reduce blood flow needed to provide energy to a working tissue. The factors that lead to this growing blockage is, therefore, important information to obtain if we are to ever discover new therapies to limit or slow the atherosclerotic process in the body. Our lab investigates the involvement of infectious disease with this vascular problem. Specifically, we are studying the role that Chlamydia pneumonia, a respiratory pathogen, plays in inducing atherosclerosis. We have identified what we believe are key proteins involved in the action of Chlamydia pneumonia to induce heart disease and are pursuing ways to regulate this interaction and thereby prevent the induction of atherosclerosis by this infection.

Insights into using flaxseed as a dietary intervention for heart disease

A major focus for our lab in the past decade has been to understand the capacity for dietary flaxseed to modulate cardiovascular disease. We have now identified that in animals models of heart disease, dietary flaxseed has several important actions on both the heart and the vasculature. It is anti-arrhythmic during ischemic reperfusion challenge to the heart, it is anti-atherogenic, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, reduces cell proliferation in the vascular wall, and blocks the atherogenic action of both dietary cholesterol and trans fats. This has allowed us to move into nutritional trials with healthy volunteers and patient populations. We have confirmed the cholesterol-lowering effects of flaxseed in humans, and identified a significant blood pressure lowering effect in patients with peripheral arterial disease. Continuing work in both animals and humans will contribute to furthering our knowledge of the potency of dietary flaxseed in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

Selected Publications

Rodriguez-Leyva, D., Zahradka, P., Ramjiawan, B., Guzman, R., Aliani, M. and Pierce, G.N. The effect of dietary flaxseed on improving symptoms of cardiovascular disease in patients with peripheral arterial disease: The rationale and design of the FlaxPAD randomized controlled trial. Contemporary Clin Trials, 32:724-730, 2011.

Bassett, C.M.C., McCullough, R.S., Edel, A.L., Patenaude, A., La Vallee, R. and Pierce, G.N. The alpha linolenic acid content of flaxseed can prevent the atherogenic effects of dietary trans fat. Am. J. Physiol., 301: H2220-H2226, 2011.

Deniset, J.F., Cheung, P.K.M., Dibrov, E., Lee, K., Steigerwald, S., and Pierce, G.N. Chlamydophila pneumoniae infection leads to smooth muscle cell proliferation and thickening in the coronary artery without contributions from a host immune response. Am. J. Pathol., 176: 1028-1037, 2010.

Maddaford, T.G., Dibrov, E., Hurtado, C., and Pierce, G.N. Reduced expression of the sodium-calcium exchanger in adult cardiomyocytes via adenovirally delivered shRNA results in resistance to simulated ischemic injury. Am. J. Physiol., 298: H360-H366, 2010.

Chahine, M.N., and Pierce, G.N. Therapeutic targeting of nuclear protein import in pathological cell conditions. Pharmacol. Rev., 61: 358-372, 2009.

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Medal of Honour for Scientific Achievement from the University of Medical Sciences in Holguin, Cuba

The Norman Alpert Award for Established Investigators in Cardiovascular Sciences in recognition of exceptional research, presented at the 4th World Congress of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences in Ahmedabad, India.

Highlighted researcher in article “Science in Canada: Canada’s Best” in BioBusiness, May/June issue 2011.


Manjeet Singh Oration Award for outstanding contributions in cardiovascular sciences from the Joint International Conference of the International Society for Heart Research and the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, Indian Section, New Delhi, India.

Jan Jessenius Gold Medal in Medical Sciences from the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia in recognition of outstanding international achievement in the field of medical research.


Outstanding Leadership in Health Research Award from the Life Sciences Association of Manitoba.

  1. CIHR Operating Grant on “The Effects of Specific Fatty Acids on Cardiovascular Health”
  2. CIHR Operating Grant on “Nuclear Protein Import in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells”
  3. Flax2015 Operating Grant on “Dietary flaxseed to control symptoms of cardiovascular disease in patients with peripheral arterial disease”
  4. Agri-food Research and Development Initiative Operating Grant on “Dietary flaxseed to control symptoms of cardiovascular disease in patients with peripheral arterial disease”