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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) 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. This high-risk, goal-driven program is structured as a collection of four initiatives that will function in an integrated and iterative way, fostering discovery and broad dissemination of the fundamental physiology and biological mechanisms underlying autonomic organ control and changes attributable to disease states and conditions. In turn, these discoveries will enable development of next generation tools, investigation of approved devices for new indications and adoption of improved computational tools and modeling methods. 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.

Current plans include initiatives to:

  • Capitalize on recent technology advances and anticipated new technology developments facilitated by the program 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
  • Explore existing and build novel technologies tailored to further discover the detailed mechanisms of neural control of the peripheral nervous system (optogenetics, stimulating/recording electrodes, cell-type specific tracing, etc.); leverage biological discoveries to develop new technology recording and stimulating the peripheral nervous system, which will be incorporated into next-generation neuromodulation therapies 
  • 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
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