Professor Nick Spencer


College of Medicine and Public Health

place Flinders Medical Centre (6E:417)
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, South Australia

Nick Spencer completed his BSc(Hons) in 1995 and then his PhD in Neurophysiology in 1998 at the Department of Physiology, Monash University, Australia. In 1998, Nick then moved to The University of Nevada School of Medicine, where he spent 10 years. In 2002, Nick obtained a 5 year grant with the NIH, to study intrinsic neural reflex circuitry in the gastrointestinal tract. Nick was offered a tenure-track permanent academic position at the University of Nevada in 2007, but instead took up an academic position at Flinders University.

Since arriving at Flinders University 11 years ago, Nick has been a Chief investigator on 15 NH&MRC project grants and 3 ARC discovery grants (> $8 million AUD). He was Chief Investigator-A on 10 of these 18 externally-funded grants. In 2021, he is Chief investigator on 2 NH&MRC project grants and 2 ARC discovery grants on gut-brain axis. In 2018, he published with Dr. Hongzhen Hu, the first wireless optogenetic control of the gut, in the leading journal Gastroenterology. He is interested in developing techniques that have been previously unavailable to the field to address major questions that have eluded scientific investigation.

Research in his laboratory is primarily directed to understanding the neurophysiological basis of pain pathways in visceral organs, and the neural control mechanisms that underlie control of the gut to brain axis. He has published more than 150 peer reviewed articles on autonomic neuroscience.

Nick was the Course Coordinator of the Bachelor of Medical Science degree from 2011-2015 and is currently Coordinator of Neuroanatomy for Year 2 Medicine.

In 2014, Nick was Treasurer of the Australasian Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society (ANGMA) and in 2016, was elected President of the Australasian Neurogastroenterology & Motility Association (ANGMA). He has organised numerous scientific meetings in Australia, including the Federation of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (FNM 2020) meeting in 2021.


BSc(Hons) (1994), Monash University, Australia

PhD (1998), Monash University, Australia

Honours, awards and grants

2018 Senior Research Award, College of Medicine & Public Health, Flinders University.

2014 Bren Gannon Award: Teaching Excellence

2005 Janssen Prize in Gastroenterology, Chicago, U.S.A

Key responsibilities

2018 - current - Chair Local Organizing Committtee- Federation of Neurogastroenterology & Motility Meeting (FNM 2020), Adelaide, Australia

2016 -2018: President, Australasian Neurogastroenterology & Motility Association (ANGMA)

2014- current: Coordinator of Medical Neuroanatomy, 2nd year Graduate Entry Medical Program

Supervisory interests
Colonic motility
Enteric electrophysiology
Enteric neurotransmission
Pain pathways
Pain processing
Smooth muscle excitability
Spinal afferents
Visceral pain
Higher degree by research supervision
Principal supervisor: Enteric neuroscience, colonic motility (1)
Associate supervisor: Colonic motility (2), Intestinal physiology, diabetes (1), Molecular biology, serotonin (1)
Principal supervisor: Colonic motility (1)
Associate supervisor: Uterine smooth muscle (1), Enteric neuroscience,sensory neurophysiology (1), Down sydrome, diabetes (2), Enteric neuroscience, intestinal physiology (1)
Further information


2019- 2022 National Health &Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) - project grant (APP1156427) ($988,243 AUD)

Title: Silencing visceral pain pathways using novel optogenetic techniques in vivo.

N.J. Spencer (CIA), S. Brierley, V. Zagorodnyuk & A Harrington.

Aim: to use wireless optogenetics to silence visceral pain.

2019-2022 National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) - project grant (APP1156416) ($788,334 AUD)

Title: Wireless optogenetic induction of gastrointestinal transit in conscious mice.

N.J. Spencer (CIA) & Hongzhen Hu

Aim: to use wireless optogenetics to stimulate the GI-tract.

2017-2020. National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) - project grant 1127140 ($637,356 AUD)

Title: A novel technique for prolonged silencing of visceral pain without opiates.
N.J Spencer (CIA), S.J. Brookes (CIBA) :- Flinders University.
Aim: To use a harmless virus to selectively silence the pain pathway to a specific organ, without side effecs of opiates.    

2019-2021 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant (DP190103628) ($453,000 AUD)
Title:Cellular bases of enteric neural circuitry underlying gut propulsion

N.J Spencer , Costa M, Brookes SJ & Dinning PJ :- Flinders University.
Aim: To investigate the neural bases of behavior in the intestine.

2019-2021. Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant (DP190103525) ($530,000 AUD)

Title: Defining how gut serotonin regulates gut motility.
D. Keating, N.J Spencer & S. Ro – Flinders University & University of Nevada, Reno.
Aim: To determine the functional role of mucosal serotonin in gut motility.

More information about current external funding (docx)

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