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.
1. Vaccines - based on recombinant proteins and synthetic peptides. Here we are investigating how to enhance immune responses to recombinant proteins and synthetic peptides through formulation and or synthetic modifications of peptides. These are aimed at enhancing mucosal delivery to simulate either a antibody protective response or a cytotoxic T cell protective response. Our target organisms are mucosal pathogens and cancer e.g. squamous cell carcinoma.
2. Mucosal and innate immunology. We have a keen interest in understanding how bacteria and their products (typically oral bacteria and outer membrane vesicles) interact and dysregulate the host immune system. To this end we are studying the role innate T cells such as NKT cells, γδT cells, MAITs, neutrophils, macrophages and how these interact with other immune cells to result in chronic inflammation typically seen in oral/mucosal diseases.
3. Antimicrobial peptides. Antibiotic resistance in microbes is a major health concern and we are investigating this by producing and altering a novel class of antibiotics called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). These AMPs are naturally produced by the immune system and as part of the natural defence of a wide variety of organisms. AMPs have a major advantage over traditional antibiotics in that they target microbial membrane and so resistance to this is very limited. Our work is focussed on altering these naturally occurring peptides using a variety of organic and peptide chemistry techniques and testing these in a wider variety of microbes that are antibiotic sensitive or resistant.
4. Cancer. Our interests here are in developing a cytotoxic T cell vaccine approach to oral cancer. This research combines elements of our vaccine design and mucosal immunology projects to investigate how to stimulate the immune system to recognise tumour antigens and induce a memory immune response to these antigens.