Peripheral nerves, the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, make connections with and influence the function of every organ in the body. Modulation of peripheral nerve signals to control the functions of the organs they supply has 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 neuromodulation therapies are poorly understood. The design of more effective neuromodulation therapies requires knowing exactly what nerves one must stimulate and how they must be stimulated to achieve the desired effect on organ function, and also requires knowing exactly what nerves one must avoid to prevent unwanted side-effects.
The Common Fund’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program will support a high-risk, goal-driven endeavor to develop proof of concept for an entirely new class of neural control devices that have the potential to precisely treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions. The SPARC program tentatively plans to support interdisciplinary teams of investigators to deliver neural circuit maps of several organ systems, novel electrode designs, minimally invasive surgical procedures, and stimulation protocols, driven by an end goal to develop new neuromodulation therapies. The program is likely to be iterative and dynamic, with the novel technologies informing mapping efforts, and mapping results defining new technology requirements.
Current plans include initiatives to:
- Deliver detailed, integrated functional and anatomical neural circuit maps in multiple organ systems; develop/pilot novel electrode designs, surgical procedures, and stimulation protocols leveraging insights from the functional maps and the initiatives described below
- Develop next-generation tools for the peripheral nervous system (optogenetics, stimulating/recording electrodes, cell-type specific tracing, etc.) needed to complete aims in the initiative described above
- Partner with industry and FDA to explore utility of existing, approved devices to address new, small-market indications
- Assemble data from other SPARC initiatives into a public data resource; develop user-friendly computational tools, and incorporate new computer modeling methods for the wider research community