Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC)

Male body showing nerves in backStimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) is an NIH Common Fund program that focuses on understanding peripheral nerves — nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body — and how their electrical signals control internal organ function. Modulation of these control signals is a potentially powerful way to treat common conditions and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and heart failure. Methods and medical devices that modulate peripheral nerve activity are becoming available, but more research is needed to fully understand how these therapies act on a target organ’s cells. Such understanding could help both explain why a particular therapy may be effective in one individual but not in another as well as resolve the issue, thereby making these therapies more effective.

SPARC Program Goals

SPARC-funded investigators are working collectively as a consortium to address the program’s aims and goals via:

  • Biological projects to develop detailed anatomical and functional maps that illustrate how peripheral nerves control organ function;
  • Technology development projects to create or improve tools to measure and manipulate nerve-organ interactions and isolate their functions;
  • Collaborations between private-sector scientists and academic researchers, to expedite the development of new therapeutic strategies;
  • Expertise leveraged from many different sources, including academic laboratories, independent inventors, start-ups, small and large businesses, and international organizations; and
  • SPARC program-developed data and tools shared through a central online resource.

To achieve these goals, NIH envisions a consortium tasked with managing these four components:

  • Anatomical and Functional Mapping of the Innervation of Major Organs;
  • Next-Generation Tools and Technologies;
  • Translational Partnerships for Human Functional Mapping and New Indications; and
  • Data and Resource Center.

A Trans-NIH Initiative

SPARC is funded through the NIH Common Fund and managed by the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with NCATS, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

NCATS’ role in this effort is to provide program management and administrative support, along with expertise in enabling industry collaborations. NCATS helps the NIH Common Fund administer the awards for SPARC projects that use the Other Transaction funding mechanism. NCATS also provides programmatic management for awards under the Translational Partnerships component.

Template agreements with several device manufacturers have made those companies’ neuromodulation technology (i.e., implantable devices with recording and/or stimulation capabilities) available to SPARC investigators. The aim is to promote preclinical development of these technologies, in support of a new use, toward enabling an Investigational Device Exemption submission to the Food and Drug Administration for a future pilot clinical study. These pilot clinical studies are designed to provide the initial proof-of-concept demonstrations in humans to spur the additional studies needed for pursuit of FDA approval as a labeled indication.

NCATS-Administered SPARC Projects

Five preclinical projects, funded through the U18 mechanism, were initiated across two RFA calls. Three projects began in September 2016 in response to RFA-RM-16-009, and NCATS added two more projects in August 2017 in response to RFA-RM-16-027. Through these projects, SPARC investigators have initiated collaborations with device companies to explore the usefulness of existing industry devices in new therapeutic applications. View the NCATS-administered SPARC projects: 

Project Titles

Principal Investigators

Closed-Loop Neuroelectric Control of Emesis and Gastric Motility Charles Horn, Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh

Neuromodulation for Asthma

Brendan J. Canning, Ph.D.
Marian Kollarik, M.D., Ph.D.
Wayne Mitzner, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University

Smart Spinal Cord Stimulation for Gastroparesis

Jiande Chen, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University
Subcutaneous Nerve Stimulation for Arrhythmia Control Peng-Sheng Chen, M.D. Indiana University

Vagal Nerve Stimulation for Diabetes

Jieyun Yin, M.D.

Transtimulation Research, Inc.

Learn more about the SPARC program and SPARC-funded research via the NIH Common Fund website.