Peripheral nerves, those connecting the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, make connections with and control the function of every organ in the body. This is achieved through electrical signals the peripheral nerves produce in response to external and internal factors such as stress, diet, exercise and disease. Modulation of these electrical, control signals 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. Methods and medical devices that modulate peripheral nerve activity are becoming available, but more knowledge is needed to fully understand how these therapies control internal organ function. Critically, such understanding could help to explain and resolve why a particular therapy may be effective in one individual, but not in another, thereby making these therapies effective for more people. In addition, 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.
The Common Fund’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (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 advance neuromodulation therapies towards precise neural control of end-organ system function to treat diseases and conditions. This high-risk, goal-driven program is structured as a consortium of four distinct research areas that function in an integrated and iterative way, fostering discovery and broad dissemination of the fundamental physiology and biological mechanisms underlying peripheral nervous system control of internal organ function and changes attributable to various diseases and conditions. In turn, these discoveries will enable development of next-generation neuromodulation therapies that could bring improved results for patients over both drug therapies and previous-generation devices. The SPARC program supports interdisciplinary teams of investigators who will resolve existing knowledge gaps and technology limitations in the following ways:
- Capitalize on recent technology advances and anticipated new technology developments facilitated by the program to deliver detailed, predictive, functional and anatomical neural circuit maps that illustrate how peripheral nerves control various internal organ or organ system functions.
- Leverage recent biological discoveries to develop or improve technologies encompassing a wide range of capabilities and spanning numerous fields (e.g., device design and manufacture, bioengineering, electrical engineering, virology, and surface chemistry) that enable precise measurement and manipulation of nerve-organ interactions and their associated functions.
- Establish effective public-private partnerships to explore new therapeutic uses for existing approved neuromodulation technologies, and collaborations to discover the functional impact of neuromodulation therapies.
- Assemble data from other SPARC initiatives into a publicly available and centralized resource for the wider research community to access as well as provide new computer modeling methods and user-friendly computational tools.