NEW OPPORTUNITY: SPARC Micro Lab on Wednesday, January 15, 1:30-3:00PM ET

Learn about the 2020 SPARC Ideas Lab by attending the SPARC Micro Lab, an interactive online workshop. Unlike typical webinars, which focus on disseminating information, this highly interactive virtual event will facilitate scientific discussions in smaller, more intimate virtual breakout groups.

The Micro Lab is now over but you can download the slides and view the video.

Note that Micro Lab attendance is not mandatory for those who wish to apply to the Ideas Lab.

2020 SPARC Ideas Lab

Predictive Modeling to Inform Development of Bioelectronic Medicine Therapies

If you would like to transform the future of bioelectronic medicine (modulation of peripheral nerves to regulate organ function and treat diseases), we invite you to apply — irrespective of your research expertise or background. We are most interested in new ideas, underpinned by original and innovative thinking.

Application Deadline: 5pm ET, January 31, 2020


The IT’IS Foundation, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is soliciting applications to participate in a five-day Ideas Lab that will generate new model-driven strategies that inform neuromodulation approaches for treating human disease. An Ideas Lab is an intensive, interactive, and open-minded workshop that brings together a diverse and multidisciplinary group of researchers to stimulate new ideas and collaboration. In this Ideas Lab, modelers, experimentalists, clinicians, and others (see “Who Should Apply” below) will assemble to develop solutions for building models and simulations aimed at improving device-based autonomic nerve modulation for therapeutic purposes. Participants will be expected to constructively engage in discussions with each other, the facilitators, and mentors in order to develop collaborative research proposals.

Following the Ideas Lab, full proposals can be submitted to a future NIH SPARC Funding Opportunity for potential funding. A notice of that upcoming opportunity is currently available here.

Date & location

April 20-24, 2020; Washington DC metro area

The Ideas Lab will run for five consecutive days, beginning at 8:00 am on Monday, April 20 and finishing by 1:00 pm on Friday, April 24.

Participants will have their travel and hotel expenses fully covered.

Applicants must commit to staying for the entire duration of the Ideas Lab if selected as a meeting participant.

Who should apply

We encourage systems physiologists/biologists, physician-scientists, computational modelers, neuroscientists, mathematicians, biomedical engineers, bioinformaticians, and biophysics-based simulations experts to consider how your experience could help shape and transform the future of bioelectronic medicine. Irrespective of expertise, we are most interested in new, innovative ideas and original thinking that arise from new collaborations between people of diverse backgrounds and varying expertise.

Approximately 30 applicants will be selected to participate in the Ideas Lab on the basis of the interests, expertise, and other characteristics solicited in the application. Most participants are expected to be academic faculty, but original thinkers from outside academia (e.g., industry) or earlier career stages are also encouraged to apply. When selecting participants, consideration will be given to balance across a range of diverse disciplinary experience and expertise. All participants should be willing to engage in frank disclosure and assessment of ideas in a collegial and professional fashion. An independent selection committee will recommend a list of potential participants from all applicants. IT’IS and NIH staff, in consultation with the Ideas Lab director and mentors, will select the final list of participants from the submitted preliminary proposals.

The challenge

Bioelectronic medicine, or peripheral neuromodulation to regulate organ function, is rapidly developing as a therapeutic approach to a wide range of conditions. Rigorous clinical studies have yielded both promising successes and puzzling failures, highlighting an urgent need for clearer anatomical and physiological understanding of the neural control of organ function. While rough outlines are emerging, significant gaps exist which demand innovative programmatic approaches. The NIH Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program ( was established in 2015 to help transform the study of the neural control of organ function by addressing these gaps, with primary focus on five organ areas (heart, lung, stomach, colon, lower urinary tract). SPARC seeks to identify neural targets and accelerate development of therapeutic devices that modulate physiological activity in these targets to improve organ function. Findings from the program are expected to offer new treatment options for diverse diseases and conditions.

SPARC researchers are generating vast amounts of neuroanatomical and neurophysiological data that inform the role of the autonomic nervous system in regulating organ function. Experimental techniques including anatomical tracing, electrophysiology, live cell imaging, transcriptomics, and organ physiology are being used to map peripheral neural networks. These experiments build on more than a century’s worth of relevant data that are represented as words and figures in the scientific literature.

Despite the vast amounts of data and software tools being generated by autonomic/enteric/peripheral neuroscience researchers inside and outside of SPARC, the field currently lacks a comprehensive effort to incorporate anatomical and physiological data into interactive multiscale, multiphysics models capable of predicting how modulation of a given neural target will impact organ functional responses. A range of challenges has so far limited the number and utility of existing computational models:

  • Few existing organ models explicitly consider the role of the autonomic nervous system and electrophysiological signaling in function.
  • With some exceptions, experimentation and interactive computational model development are performed by different groups, without attention to the potential advantages of coordination.
  • With some exceptions, the collection of experimental data is not driven by the parameter needs of model developers.
  • The technical and conceptual heterogeneity of existing computational models renders integration difficult, particularly across species, spatial and temporal scales, and organs.
  • Existing neuroscience knowledgebases and computational resources are underutilized.

The opportunity

There is a need to advance and possibly automate the creation of functional neuro- and organ-physiological models that improve the precision of neuromodulation of nerve and organ activity. The aim of this Ideas Lab is to address the challenges above by facilitating the generation of innovative research project concepts aimed at building interoperable, extensible, and personalizable simulations to inform bioelectronic medicine development, with particular focus on diseases and conditions that impact the stomach, colon, lungs, heart, or lower urinary tract. To be clinically relevant, the simulations will need to account for variability and uncertainty across species, individuals, and sexes, and will need to predict off-target effects. If successful, this effort will enable in silico studies and new experiments for predicting the effects of autonomic neuromodulation on organ function, ultimately leading to more precise neuromodulation therapies.

The Ideas Lab will facilitate collaborations between experimentalists, physician-scientists, and communities of modelers such as machine learning, dynamic systems theory, control theory, and design-of-experiment/ model-order-reduction/ surrogate-modeling. This should not only lead to organ- or intervention-specific models, but should also give rise to approaches that generally support the following:

  • Generation of computational models from experimental information,
  • Integration of heterogeneous computational models, and
  • Extension beyond individual computational models.

Iterative approaches that encompass collaborative efforts between modelers, experimentalists, and/or clinicians are also expected to arise.

Ideas Lab participants are expected to utilize existing data, knowledge, and computational tools being generated by the SPARC program and beyond. While projects that arise from the Ideas Lab may involve new experiments and data generation, all projects must leverage existing data and/or knowledge — whether from SPARC, the literature, or other resources (e.g., data repositories or knowledgebases). Additionally, all projects must utilize SPARC’s online computational platform, o2S2PARC, which supports collaborative modeling and enables users to share and execute computational simulation, analysis, and visualization modules from other users/groups, and to combine these into coupled pipelines. Information about these resources is below and will be made available in greater detail to Ideas Lab participants, both before and during the Ideas Lab.

Why and how to apply

If you want to advance the emerging and rapidly evolving field of autonomic neuromodulation, you would like to shape the future of collaborative neurosciences, and you want to participate in a stimulating and open exchange with a diverse, multidisciplinary range of researchers, we invite you to submit an application. If applying, please be prepared to answer questions about yourself, your work experience, your research focus, and why you are interested in and qualified for the Ideas Lab.

If you have questions or need additional information, please email

Application Deadline: 5pm ET, January 31, 2020