All organs in the body are stimulated by nerves, which send signals that affect the organ’s function. Modulation of nerve signals to control end-organ function has recently been recognized as a potentially powerful way to treat many diseases and conditions, such as hypertension, heart failure, gastrointestinal disorders, type II diabetes, inflammatory disorders, and more. However, the mechanisms of action for therapies in which nerves are stimulated to control organ function are poorly understood. The Common Fund’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) has the central goal of providing a basic understanding of the peripheral nervous system to catalyze development of therapies based on neuromodulation of end-organ system function. SPARC is uniquely positioned to serve as a community resource that provides the broader public and private research communities with the scientific foundation necessary to create more effective and minimally invasive neuromodulation therapies.
During the 2013-2014 Common Fund strategic planning process, the NIH community identified the need to understand the mechanisms of action for neuromodulation therapies. Although some neuromodulation therapies are in use, the underlying technologies are not optimal, and so a great opportunity exists to develop improved therapies for a number of diseases and conditions. Improving and developing new neuromodulation therapies requires a better understanding of the neural circuits in end-organ systems, as well as the development of novel electrode designs, surgical procedures, and stimulation protocols. In response to these needs and opportunities, the Common Fund plans to launch the SPARC program in fiscal year 2015.