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


  • Genome-wide association study of telomere length among South Asians identifies a second RTEL1 association signalDelgado DA, Zhang C, Chen LS, Gao J, Roy S, Shinkle J, Sabarinathan M, Argos M, Tong L, Ahmed A, Islam T, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Sarwar G, Shahriar H, Rahman M, Yunus M, Jasmine F, Kibriya MG, Ahsan H, Pierce BL.J Med Genet. 2018 Jan;55(1):64-71. doi: 10.1136/jmedgenet-2017-104922. Epub 2017 Nov 18. PubMed PMID: 29151059.
  • Identifying cis-mediators for trans-eQTLs across many human tissues using genomic mediation analysis.
    Yang F, Wang J, Pierce BL, Chen LS
    (2017 Nov) Genome Res. 2017 Nov;27(11):1859-1871. doi: 10.1101/gr.216754.116. Epub 2017 Oct 11. 29021290 (Full Text)
  • The association between telomere length and mortality in Bangladesh.
    Dean SG, Zhang C, Gao J, Roy S, Shinkle J, Sabarinathan M, Argos M, Tong L, Ahmed A, Islam MT, Islam T, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Sarwar G, Shahriar H, Rahman M, Yunus M, Graziano JH, Chen LS, Jasmine F, Kibriya MG, Ahsan H, Pierce BL
    (2017 Jun) Aging (Albany NY). 2017 Jun 15;9(6):1537-1551. doi: 10.18632/aging.101246. 28630379 (Full Text)
  • Sex-Specific and Time-Varying Associations Between Cigarette Smoking and Telomere Length Among Older Adults.
    Zhang C, Lauderdale DS, Pierce BL
    (2016 Dec) Am J Epidemiol. 2016 Dec 15;184(12):922-932. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww102. Epub 2016 Nov 17. 27856448 (Full Text)
  • Determinants and Consequences of Arsenic Metabolism Efficiency among 4,794 Individuals: Demographics, Lifestyle, Genetics, and Toxicity.
    Jansen RJ, Argos M, Tong L, Li J, Rakibuz-Zaman M, Islam MT, Slavkovich V, Ahmed A, Navas-Acien A, Parvez F, Chen Y, Gamble MV, Graziano JH, Pierce BL, Ahsan H
    (2016 Feb) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016 Feb;25(2):381-90. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-15-0718. Epub 2015 Dec 16. 26677206 (Full Text)
  • Mediation Analysis Demonstrates That Trans-eQTLs Are Often Explained by Cis-Mediation: A Genome-Wide Analysis among 1,800 South Asians 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. PLoS Genet. 2014 Dec 4;10(12):e1004818. PMID: 25474530
  • The Genetic Architecture of Arsenic Metabolism Efficiency: A SNP-Based Heritability Study of Bangladeshi Adults. 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. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Mar 13. PMID: 25768001.
  • Efficient design for Mendelian randomization studies:  subsample and two-sample instrumental variable estimators. Pierce BL and Burgess S.   Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Oct 1;178(7):1177-84.
  • Arsenic metabolism efficiency has a causal role in arsenic toxicity: Mendelian randomization and gene-environment interaction.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.    Int J Epidemiol. 2013; 42(6): 1862-1872.
  • The effect of non-differential measurement error on bias, precision, and power in Mendelian randomization studies.  Pierce BL and VanderWeele TJ.  .  Int J Epidemiol. 2012 Oct;41(5):1383-93.
  • Genome-wide association study identifies chromosome 10q24.32 variants associated with arsenic metabolism and toxicity phenotypes in Bangladesh.  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. PLoS Genet. 2012 Feb;8(2):e1002522
  • Unidentified genetic variants influence pancreatic cancer risk:  An analysis of the PanScan genome-wide association study.  Pierce BL, Tong L, Kraft P, Ahsan HGenet Epidemiol. 2012 Jul;36(5):517-24.
  • Genomewide “pleiotropy scan” identifies HNF1A region as a novel pancreatic cancer susceptibility locus. Pierce BL, Ahsan H.   Cancer Res. 2011 Jul 1;71(13):4352-8.
  • Arsenic exposure, dietary patterns, and skin lesion risk in Bangladesh: A prospective study. Pierce BL, Argos M, Chen Y, Melkonian S, Parvez F, Islam T, Ahmed A, Hasan R, Graziano J, Rathouz PJ, Ahsan H.   Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Feb 1;173(3):345-54.
  • Power and instrument strength requirements for Mendelian randomization studies using multiple genetics variants.  Pierce BL, Ahsan H, Vanderweele TJ.   Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun;40(3):740-52.
  • Elevated biomarkers of inflammation are associated with reduced survival among breast cancer patients. Pierce BL, Ballard-Barbash R, Bernstein L, Baumgartner RN, Neuhouser ML, Wener MH, Baumgartner KB, Gilliland FD, Sorensen BE, McTiernan, Ulrich CM.   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)


  • Associate Professor, Department of Human Genetics (Secondary) 
  • Co-leader, Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program, University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Director, Public Health Sciences doctoral program


Pierce Research Group webpage: