NIH Launches SPARC Data Portal at Los Angeles Events

by Jeremy Koff, senior consulting editor

July 2019 issue

The NIH’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions program took a major step forward earlier this month with the unveiling of a new data portal and with a series of meetings with key investigators and partners. The NIH revealed much of its new efforts during the 11th Congress of the International Society of Autonomic Neuroscience in Los Angeles [see conference report, page 7].

SPARC is an NIH program that focuses on understanding peripheral nerves and how their electrical signals control internal organ function. The program 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 Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

NIH representatives organized a number of presentations and meetings during the ISAN conference, as well as hosting a meeting for their funded programs just after the conference. The newly announced SPARC data portal ( is an open-source web application that provides access to a growing collection of interactive autonomic neuroscience resources. In the future, it will enable users to run advanced analytics and computational studies to predict the effects of neuromodulation on organ function.

The portal contains three modules: a neuroscience data center (Datacore), mapping of the data (Mapcore), and simulations (Simcore). The service is a collaboration among the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland, the commercial firm Blackfynn, and the IT’IS Foundation, which was established in Switzerland. Example datasets in the portal are rat vagus nerve morphology, and a multiscale model of cardiac electrophysiology.

Throughout the conference, SPARC maintained two dedicated rooms to allow attendees access to their data portal as well as easy access to their staff. “The scientific community is fortunate to have the SPARC program energize and support our field,” said Kalyanam Shivkumar from UCLA, who served as chair of ISAN 2019 and was recently elected president of the society. He believes that neuroscience-based therapeutics have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of visceral diseases and he affirmed that UCLA will be an integral part of this scientific journey.

Shivkumar explained that one of the foremost goals of NIH SPARC program is to create tools technologies and data to be widely shared. “The roll out of the Data and Resource Center was a great success,” he said. “The portal will promote collaboration between scientists and industry resulting in real world therapies getting to market quicker and cheaper.”

“SPARC supports research to accelerate therapeutic device development for bioelectronic medicine applications,” said SPARC program manager Gene Civillico. “Bringing together dozens of SPARC-supported teams with the broader autonomic neuroscience community at ISAN added tremendous value for both groups. Interactive sessions like our hands-on SPARC technology showcase and the rollout of our SPARC portal allowed us to share our data and tools with the research community, and it was invaluable for the SPARC program staff to see the real-time reactions to these new SPARC resources. There’s a palpable sense of growth and translational possibility in this very diverse, multidisciplinary community and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

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