O’Brien-Simpson Neil

A/Prof. Neil O’Brien-Simpson


A/Prof. Neil O’Brien-Simpson
A/Prof. Neil O’Brien-Simpson

E-mail: neil.obs@unimelb.edu.au

Telephone: +61 3 9341 1550


  • Senior Research Fellow.
  • CRC Program co-leader for Novel Diagnostics, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals Program.
  • Ph.D (1997) – The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia. Thesis title “Free radical induced polymerisation of synthetic peptides into polymeric antigens”.
  • BSc(Hons) (1993) – First Class (H1). Awarded: The University Medal. Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Neil O’Brien-Simpson has an interdisciplinary background, combining organic and peptide chemistry with microbiology and immunology to develop novel vaccines and therapeutics and investigating the immune response to pathogens. Thus his field of research is in chemical biology/immunology and host/pathogen (bacteria/fungi) mucosal interaction.

He was originally trained in biological sciences and management at Edinburgh Napier University (Edinburgh, Scotland) and worked at I.C.I Chemicals and Polymers Division (Grangemouth and Runcorn) as a research organic chemist. In 1993 he was awarded an Overseas postgraduate research scholarship and a CRC for vaccine technology scholarship to study for his Ph.D at The University of Melbourne, Department of Microbiology and Immunology. During his Ph.D he was trained in peptide chemistry and immunology and developed in his thesis a method of producing a multi-valent peptide vaccine, which resulted in several publications and a patent. After being awarded his Ph.D he went to the Melbourne Dental School, The University of Melbourne, to do postdoctoral research with Eric Reynolds on the development of a vaccine against the bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis a causative agent of periodontitis.

At the Melbourne Dental School A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has established a peptide/organic chemistry laboratory and a microbial-immunology laboratory to conduct research into AMPs, vaccines and bacterial immunity. He was part of a team in 2003 and 2009 that was awarded a Co-operative Research Centre grant for establishing the CRC for Oral Health Science and Oral Health CRC, respectively served as a Program Leader (2003-2009) and currently as a Project Manager for vaccine design and therapeutic development. For the past 3 years (2011-present) he has been a member of the Australian Dental Research Foundation (ADRF) research awards committee that awards grants and scholarships pertaining to oral and dental research. A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has published over 50 peer reviewed journal articles and is an inventor on 11 patents, 6 of which have been licensed. Further his research into vaccine design and periodontitis has resulted in Neil being awarded: the Colgate Prize for Dental Research (1999), The IADR Hatton Award (2000) and the Oral Biology Award (2003). In 2003 he was awarded a CR Roper Fellowship and in 2004 he became program co-leader for the Novel Diagnostics, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals Research Program in the newly formed Co-operative Research Centre for Oral Health Science.

As an active member of the University and scientific community, A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has served as chair, co-chair or member of a number of committees, these include; Chair/co-chair (alternating years) on the University of Melbourne’s animal ethics committee (2001-present), Chair of the Grant Award Committee and member of the Research Committee for the Melbourne Dental School (2007-present), member of the RACI Peptide Users Group (2009-present), Chair of the RACI Peptide Users Group (2014-present).

In service to the NHMRC, A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has been invited to review grants and has been a member of the GRP panels in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Over the past ten years A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has been a CIA on one NHMRC grant; a CIB on six other NHMRC grants, CI on two NIH grants, which have produced 58 publications and 11 patents, 6 of which have been licensed.

A/Prof O’Brien-Simpson has been part of the organizing committees for a number of national and international conferences; International Association of Dental research (ANZ division) conference 2003, Australian Peptide Association Solid Phase Peptide Synthesis Symposia (2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015).


He is currently engaged in several research programs, notably in

  • Design, development and delivery of sub-unit vaccines,
  • Understanding the mucosal immune response to bacteria.
  • How microbes and their products e.g. outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) interact with mammalian cells.
  • Synthesis of antimicrobial peptides to combat microbial infection and targeting antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Nanomaterial and particles for vaccine and drug delivery.


  • Investigation of the immune response to single and multi-bacterial species infection. 2 & 4
  • Investigating the role outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) play in mucosal infection by bacteria and how OMVs interact with host cells to cause pathology. 2 & 4
  • Understanding how immune cells such as macrophages, neutrophils, NKT cells, gd-T cells and Th1 and Th2 T cells interact with bacteria and their products. 2 & 4
  • Development of vaccine delivery systems for synthetic peptides and recombinant proteins. 2 & 4
  • Enhancing the immune response to synthetic peptides. 2 & 4
  • Development of novel chemistries for the synthesis of peptide and peptide mimetics. 2 & 4
  • Development of antimicrobial peptides targeting oral and ESKAPE pathogens. 2 & 4
  • Development of nanomaterials and nanoparticles as vaccine carriers or drug carriers for vaccine or antimicrobials. 2 & 4

(Projects that are available (1) for AMS; (2) for BSc Hons; (3) for Masters by Research; (4) for PhD; students are indicated by a number).


Neil’s research is conducted within a large highly integrated research group which allows direct access to the instrumentation located within this group. This research group consists of several well-equipped multidisciplinary laboratories including: Immunology (flow cytometry/cell sorting lab, tissue culture lab, cell harvesting/analysis lab), Microbiology (continuous culture lab, confocal microscopy lab), Molecular Biology (micro-array lab, real-time PCR lab, liquid handling/robitics lab) Proteomics (MALDI TOF/TOF lab, Nano LC-ion spray [ion trap] lab, 2D electrophoresis/robitics labs), Structure lab (computer modeling lab), Peptide/protein lab (consiting of HPLC’s, CE’s, BIACORE 3000, peptide synthesizers), Biomineralisation lab, Radiolab and a Computer and Imaging Lab. The laboratories are regarded as the premier oral research laboratories in Australia and are extensively equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.


Also see A/Prof. O’Brien-Simpson's Find an Expert page at The University of Melbourne.


  1. Polymers Incorporating Peptides – Jackson, D.C, O’Brien-Simpson, N.M. Brown, L.E. Ede, N.J. Brandt, E. Zheng, W (1997).
  2. Synthetic Peptide Constructs for Diagnosis and Treatment of Periodontitis Associated with Porphyromonas gingivalis – Reynolds EC, O’Brien-Simpson NM, Slakeski N. (1998).
  3. Antimicrobial Peptides – Reynolds EC, Dashper SG, Malkoski M, O’Brien-Simpson NM, Talbo G, Cross KJ (1999).
  4. Synthetic Peptides Containing Protective Epitopes for the Treatment and Prevention of Periodontitis Associated with Porphyromonas gingivalis – Reynolds EC, O’Brien-Simpson NM. (2001).
  5. Porphyromonas gingivalis Antigenic Composition– Reynolds EC, O’Brien-Simpson NM. (2002).
  6. Vaccine – Cheers, C, McKenzie,IFC, Pietersz, GA, Stambas, J, Reynolds EC, O’Brien-Simpson NM. (2003).



  • Development of a defined Porphyromonas gingivalis vaccine
  • Impact of oral interactions on periodontitis


  • The RgpA-Kgp proteinase-adhesin complex and virulence of Porphyromonas gingivalis
  • Anticariogenic casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium fluoride phosphate
  • Strategic Research Development grant - Development of a site-specific, predictive assay for periodontal disease progression using mass spectrometric and real-time PCR analysis.
  • Polymicrobial pathogenesis in a murine periodontitis model.
  • Molecular studies of dentine phosphoporyn and development of a biomimetic dental restorative material

AusIndustry, Department of Industry, Science and Resources

  • Co-operative Research Center (CRC) for Oral Health Science

Science, Technology and Innovation Initiative

  • Victorian Centre for Oral Health Science


  • Characterization of the RgpA-Kgp proteinase-adhesin complex of Porphyromonas gingivalis W50 in the murine periodontitis model


  • International Association of Dental Research
  • Australasian Society of Immunology


  • Research training for undergraduate and postgraduate students
  • Developing strategies for rapid dissemination of current research findings to clinical professionals