Brandon Pierce, PhD


Brandon Pierce’s research focuses on the interrelated roles of genetic, molecular, and environmental factors in cancer risk and prognosis. Dr. Pierce is interested in how genetic variation influences or alters the effects of environmental exposures and biomarkers on human health and biology. Dr. Pierce’s research interests include (1) telomere length as a biomarker of aging and cancer risk, (2) methods for assessing causal relationships among risk factors, biomarkers, and disease, (3) genome-wide association studies, and (4) susceptibility to the effects of environmental exposure to arsenic, a known carcinogen. The long-term goals of Dr. Pierce’s work are to understand toxicity mechanisms and disease biology, and to improve our ability to predict disease and target interventions to high-risk sub-populations. Dr. Pierce a principal investigator (PI) of several ongoing NIH and DoD-funded projects:

  • A Study of Telomere Length in an Arsenic-Exposed Bangladeshi Cohort:  Dr. Pierce’s team is leading a study of the effects of arsenic on telomeres, which are critical structures on the ends of human chromosomes that protect against damage that can lead to cancer.  This study will also determine if characteristics of telomeres are associated with arsenic-related health outcomes such as mortality, skin lesions, and skin cancer.   
  • Genetics of Arsenic Metabolism: fine mapping and analysis of rare variants:  Susceptibility to arsenic toxicity is partially determined by genetic variants on chromosome 10 which influence individuals’ ability to metabolize arsenic.  Dr. Pierce directs a project that will comprehensively characterize the effects of these variants across three arsenic-exposed population groups (Bangladeshis, American Indians, and European Americans).  
  • Telomere Length and Chromosomal Instability Across Various Tissue Types:  Age-related telomere shortening may play a critical role in susceptibility to common age-related diseases, including cancer.  Using tissue samples from the NHGRI’s Gene-Tissue Expression project (GTEx), Dr. Pierce’s team is assessing  correlations among telomere length measurements taken across many cancer-prone tissues and determining if telomere length is correlated with DNA damage as well as inherited genetic variation.  
  • Identifying DNA Methylation Features That Underlie Prostate Cancer Disparities:   In light of racial disparities in prostate cancer incidence and mortality in the U.S., Dr. Pierce is leading a project to determine if DNA methylation patterns in prostate tissue differ between African American and Caucasian patients and how such differences are related to clinical features, as well as genetic and environmental factors.  This work will contribute to the identification ethnicity-specific biomarkers for prostate cancer aggressiveness.  
  • Identifying Arsenic Susceptibility Variants Using an omics-based Screening Approach:  Dr. Pierce is co-PI of a project focused on identification genetic variants that interact with arsenic exposure to influence arsenic-related health outcomes.  Dr. Pierce’s team is conducting genome-wide screens for such variants, focusing on variants that interact with arsenic to influence molecular (“omic”) phenotypes.  


  • BA, Biology Washington University in St. Louis, 2002
  • MS, Genetic Epidemiology, Washington University School of Medicine, 2004
  • PhD, Public Health Genetics, University of Washington, Seattle, 2008


  • Pierce BL, Tong L, Chen LS, Rahaman R, Argos M, Jasmine F, Roy S, Paul-Brutus  R, Westra HJ, Franke L, Esko T, Zaman R, Islam T, Rahman M, Baron JA, Kibriya MG, Ahsan H. Mediation Analysis Demonstrates That Trans-eQTLs Are Often Explained by Cis-Mediation: A Genome-Wide Analysis among 1,800 South Asians. PLoS Genet. 2014 Dec 4;10(12):e1004818. PMID: 25474530
  • Gao J, Tong L, Argos M, Scannell Bryan M, Ahmed A, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Kibriya MG, Jasmine F, Slavkovich V, Graziano JH, Ahsan H, Pierce BL. The Genetic Architecture of Arsenic Metabolism Efficiency: A SNP-Based Heritability Study of Bangladeshi Adults. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Mar 13. PMID: 25768001. 
  • Pierce BL and Burgess S.  Efficient design for Mendelian randomization studies:  subsample and two-sample instrumental variable estimators.  Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Oct 1;178(7):1177-84.
  • Pierce BL, Tong L, Argos M, Gao J, Jasmine F, Roy S, Paul-Brutus R, Rahaman R, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Parvez F, Ahmed A, Quasem I, Hore SK, Alam S, Islam T, Harjes J, Sarwar G, Slavkovich V, Gamble MV, Chen Y, Yunus M, Rahman M, Baron JA, Graziano JH, Ahsan H.  Arsenic metabolism efficiency has a causal role in arsenic toxicity: Mendelian randomization and gene-environment interaction.  Int J Epidemiol. 2013; 42(6): 1862-1872.
  • Pierce BL and VanderWeele TJ.  The effect of non-differential measurement error on bias, precision, and power in Mendelian randomization studies.  Int J Epidemiol. 2012 Oct;41(5):1383-93.
  • Pierce BL, Kibriya MG, Tong L, Jasmine F, Argos M, Roy S, Paul-Brutus R, Rahaman R, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Parvez F, Ahmed A, Quasem I, Hore SK, Alam S, Islam T, Slavkovich V, Gamble MV, Yunus M, Rahman M, Baron JA, Graziano JH, Ahsan H. Genome-wide association study identifies chromosome 10q24.32 variants associated with arsenic metabolism and toxicity phenotypes in Bangladesh. PLoS Genet. 2012 Feb;8(2):e1002522.
  • Pierce BL, Tong L, Kraft P, Ahsan H.  Unidentified genetic variants influence pancreatic cancer risk:  An analysis of the PanScan genome-wide association study.  Genet Epidemiol. 2012 Jul;36(5):517-24.
  • Pierce BL, Ahsan H.  Genomewide “pleiotropy scan” identifies HNF1A region as a novel pancreatic cancer susceptibility locus.  Cancer Res. 2011 Jul 1;71(13):4352-8.
  • Pierce BL, Argos M, Chen Y, Melkonian S, Parvez F, Islam T, Ahmed A, Hasan R, Graziano J, Rathouz PJ, Ahsan H.  Arsenic exposure, dietary patterns, and skin lesion risk in Bangladesh: A prospective study.  Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Feb 1;173(3):345-54.
  • Pierce BL, Ahsan H, Vanderweele TJ.  Power and instrument strength requirements for Mendelian randomization studies using multiple genetics variants.  Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun;40(3):740-52.
  • Pierce BL, Ballard-Barbash R, Bernstein L, Baumgartner RN, Neuhouser ML, Wener MH, Baumgartner KB, Gilliland FD, Sorensen BE, McTiernan, Ulrich CM.  Elevated biomarkers of inflammation are associated with reduced survival among breast cancer patients.  Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2009; 27(21):3437-44. 


  • Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology (PBHS 31830)
  • Critical Readings in Epidemiology (PBHS 31510)
  • Statistical Genetics (HG 47100)


  • Assistant Professor, Department of Human Genetics (Secondary) 
  • Associate Member, University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center
Pierce Research Group webpage: