Dr. Grant Pierce
BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012
Cell biologist Dr. Grant Pierce has been
studying the causes of heart disease for
decades. But his focus hasn't been so much on
the organ itself as it has been on the roadways
that lead away from the heart: the arteries.
"I would say 80 per cent of heart disease
is not a heart problem," says the principal
investigator at the Institute of Cardiovascular
Sciences at St-Boniface Hospital Research.
"It's actually vascular problems, meaning
it's a problem with your arteries," says Pierce,
who is also a principal investigator at the
Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in
Health and Medicine.
Heart attacks and most strokes are caused
by blockages in the arteries. In the case of a
heart attack, the coronary artery is partially
blocked, limiting blood flow to the heart
muscle. This can lead to heart failure and
Pierce, a professor of physiology at the
University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine,
and his team have been trying to understand
what leads to poor arterial health and what
can be done to keep our vascular system in
tip-top shape to reduce atherosclerosis, the
leading cause of strokes and heart attacks.
To that end, they've been working on a
number of fronts, including studying the role
of flaxseed in maintaining healthy arteries
and repairing damaged ones. "Flax reduces
the plaque build-up in arteries, and we think
it does this because it has anti-inflammatory
properties," he says. "It also appears to stop
something called 'cell proliferation,' which is
when one cell divides into two, then into four,
then turning into eight, etc." Cell proliferation
leads to a build-up of plaque in the artery wall,
which in turn reduces blood flow.
Pierce has been exploring on a molecular
level why this happens, and his team has
uncovered many of the molecular mechanisms
that lead to unhealthy arteries. It's research
that could someday lead to new treatments.
But their work's potential benefits extend
beyond treating cardiovascular disease.
"Cell growth is a central figure in just
about every disease," Pierce says, adding that
uncontrolled cell growth is cancer's calling
card. "If we can find ways to prevent that cell
growth in arteries, we have a nice target for
many different illnesses."
Back to "Leading the way"
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the November / December 2012 issue of Wave