Professor Nick Spencer

Matthew Flinders Professor

College of Medicine and Public Health

place Flinders Medical Centre Building (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. In 2002, Nick obtained a 5 year NIH grant to study intrinsic neural circuitry in the gastrointestinal tract. In 2006, he was offered a tenure-track permanent position at The University of Nevada, but decided to accept a permanent position at Flinders University.

Since arriving at Flinders University 16 years ago, Nick has been a chief investigator on 15 NH&MRC project grants and 4 ARC Discovery grants ($10 million AUD). He was Chief Investigator-A on 11 of these 19 federally-funded grants. In 2018, he published with Dr. Hongzhen Hu at the Ichan School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York, the first wireless optogenetic control of the gut, in the leading journal Gastroenterology. Nick 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 190 peer reviewed articles on autonomic neuroscience. Nick recently co-edited two books, one entitled: "The Enteric Nervous System II", the other "Visceral Pain".

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 the Treasurer of the Australasian Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society (ANGMA)and in 2016, was elected President of ANGMA.

From 2022-2024, Nick was Chair of Optogenetics Australia

Nick has worked with Vibrant (Israel), Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, Fonterra (N.Z), GlaxoSmithKline.


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

PhD (1998), Monash University, Australia

Honours, awards and grants

2022 Matthew Flinders Professor

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

2014 Bren Gannon Award: Teaching Excellence

2005 Janssen Prize in Gastroenterology, (DDW, Chicago) U.S.A

Key responsibilities

2022- Chair, Optogenetics Australia.

2016-2020 -Chair, Local Organizing Committtee- Federation of Neurogastroenterology & Motility Meeting (FNM 2020), Australia.

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

2014-2016: Inaugural Treasurer, Australasian Neurogastroenterology & Motility Association (ANGMA)

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

Supervisory interests
Colonic motility
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


2022-2026 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant (DP220100070) ($438,619 AUD)

Title: How Spinal afferent neurons control appetite and thirst

N.J Spencer (CIA) & Zachary Knight :- Flinders University.

Aim: To determine the role of spinal afferent neurons in thirst and appetite sensations.

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)