Gary Pierce awarded NIH grant to study isolated systolic hypertension

The $2.1 million grant will fund research into the stiffening of central arteries
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Gary Pierce
Gary Pierce

Associate Professor Gary Pierce of the University of Iowa Department of Health and Human Physiology received a five-year, $2.1M R01 grant from the National Institute on Aging, a unit of the National Institutes of Health. Pierce will investigate the role of the sympathetic nervous system on the stiffness of the large elastic central arteries, including the aorta and carotid arteries, in older adults with isolated systolic hypertension (ISH).

Stiffening of the large elastic central arteries with aging is an early predictor of future heart attacks, strokes and cognitive impairment. As a result of this stiffening, older adults can develop ISH, one of the most common types of hypertension in adults older than 60 years of age.

Previous studies by Pierce’s lab suggest that overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system could be one mechanism that contributes to stiffening of the large elastic central arteries with advancing age. With this NIH funding, Pierce aims to investigate the direct impact of inhibiting sympathetic nerve activity on stiffness of the large elastic central arteries and ISH.

The project will run through March 2025.

Pierce joined the UI faculty in 2011. He established and directs the Iowa Translational Vascular Physiology Lab. His team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate candidates, and undergraduate students work to understand how vascular dysfunction contributes to cardiovascular disease risk and identify new therapies to treat these conditions.

Pierce serves a dual appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. He is also a member of the Francois Abboud Cardiovascular Research Center and the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, home to Carver College of Medicine’s cutting-edge endocrine and metabolic research.

As one of the 27 centers a part of the NIH, the National Institute on Aging aims to understand the aging process and the factors that lead to a healthy, long life. They conduct and fund research projects that specifically look at that conditions affect the older population.

By Grace Culbertson


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.