UTSW researcher selected for AHA Second Century Awards to study serum biomarkers

Isaac Pence, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering is among 33 investigators selected to receive American Heart Association (AHA) Second Century Early Faculty Independence Awards, which provide $300,000 over three years for research focused on critical, emerging priorities of the next century. The grants support early-career investigators and are part of the AHA’s $20 million Second Century of Science Initiative in celebration of the nonprofit’s 100th anniversary in 2024.

CKD and cardiovascular disease

Dr. Pence’s research focuses on quantifying compositional dynamics of serum biomarkers of vascular calcification in chronic kidney disease (CKD).

“I am honored to have been selected,” said Dr. Pence, who has secondary appointments in Internal Medicine and the Charles and Jane Pak Center for Mineral Metabolism and Clinical Research. “This support will enable my lab to continue to grow and tackle significant health care challenges with cutting-edge technological approaches.”

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for CKD patients. The kidneys play an important role in balancing minerals – such as calcium and phosphate – in the body. When the kidney is damaged and cannot control mineral levels, minerals can build up in soft tissues like blood vessels, which can cause them to stiffen and ultimately strain the heart and further damage the kidneys.

“Small particles in the blood that are made of minerals, fats, and proteins have been linked to mineral buildup in CKD patients. Unfortunately, not much is known about how these particles cause minerals to accumulate in the blood vessels or if the particle makeup affects how the disease changes over time,” he said.

Dr. Pence is creating a new tool to characterize and quantify these particles in a blood sample to predict if someone is at risk for mineral buildup. Based on a system he developed to investigate nanoparticles and extracellular vesicles, the tool uses light to study the chemical makeup of a blood sample by measuring the different amounts and colors of light that are scattered. The Pence Lab will use the tool to compare particles from healthy people and those from people with kidney disease as well as measure changes in particle makeup after treatments that change the mineral balance in the blood.

“This tool will allow us to better understand the causes and markers of vascular calcification and help us to offer better care for people with CKD so that they may live longer, healthier, and more comfortable lives,” Dr. Pence said.


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