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New Research to Treat Pain and Other Conditions

A new program by the National Institute of Health (NIH) 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.

The new program called Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) seeks various ways to modulate electrical signals to treat common conditions and diseases 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 additional research is necessary 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.

For example, vagus nerve stimulation, or VNS, has long been approved for use in the U.S. to treat severe and difficult epilepsy cases and treatment-resistant depression. Surgery is required to implant a pacemaker-like device in the body. Another device that blocks signals to the vagus nerve was approved last year to treat obesity.
A hand-held VNS device, which avoids the need for surgery, is used in Europe for migraines, and the Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing an application for the product in the U.S. The target of SPARC is to advance research projects over the next 6 years to expand these treatment options for a variety of conditions.

The 2016 SPARC goals include:
• 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.

Click here for more information about the NIH SPARC Program >>

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