About Professor Philip O'Connell

The overarching aim of my research work is to improve transplant outcomes by developing novel, clinically realistic, therapeutic options for patients with end-organ failure and for a specific cohort of patients with type 1 diabetes. The major focus is to translate laboratory advances into clinical therapies via the strong collaborative network we have established with scientists and clinicians within my centre and with that of other centres, both nationally and internationally. The goal is to advance transplantation by developing a strong interactive research environment where initiatives are quickly interchanged between the laboratory and the clinic. The training and mentoring of students is an important part of our research centre. We offer a dynamic research program for students with a focus on research translation, with a unique opportunity for students to be involved with research programs that change clinical practice. This approach has been successful in attracting students from both scientific as well as medical backgrounds.

The overall objective of our research is to improve transplant outcomes through the development of better immunosuppressive protocols and the production of graft tolerance after a short period of induction therapy. The process of translating laboratory research findings to the clinic is via exploratory clinic trials within the kidney and islet transplant programs. This is funded via an NHMRC program grant and a Clinical Research Network grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (funding $3.3 million). A second plank of this research is the development of an alternative source of beta cells. This is achieved through collaborative NHMRC project grants with Professors Wayne Hawthorne and Peter Cowan where pig pancreatic islet xenotransplantation is being developed in a preclinical model. Methods to predict and stratify transplant outcomes is being developed through the use of genomics and has been successful in developing a predictive gene set from protocol renal biopsies. This was an international collaborative grant in collaboration with Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York and funded by the NIH. Examples of successful research translation include: the first group in Australia to perform clinical islet transplantation and the development of an islet transplant service through the National Funded Centres program, and the establishment of a biobank of extensive patient samples and linked clinical data for the development of predictive biomarkers in transplantation, leading to a gene biomarker that is predictive of chronic graft injury and graft loss.

Professor Philip O'Connell, is a clinician-scientist with more than 180 publications (>40 in past 5 years).Total career citations > 5000, Since 2010 > 2500.

Professor Philip O'Connell is a senior NHMRC Practitioner Fellow and director of the Centre for Transplant and Renal Research, WIMR, with more than 20 staff including independent investigators, postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, research assistants and technical staff. He is director of the Australian Islet Transplant Consortium. He has had continuous funding from the NHRMC since 1995 and has been a CI on two NHMRC program grants. He was CIA on a special NHMRC/JDRF program grant in type 1 diabetes as well as CI on a second NHMRC/JDRF program grant. He was CI on and NHMRC Clinical Research Excellence grant and a PI on an NIH grant on genomics of chronic graft rejection. Current grants include:

2013-17 NHMRC Program Grant "Pathogenesis-based treatment of type 1 diabetes" Other CIs: L Harrison, T Kay, A Lew, G Morahan, H Thomas. Award: $10,274,870.00 over 5 years.

2016-19 ARC/JDRF Australian type 1 diabetes clinical research network : Concept Proposal. Title : Expanding the criteria for human islet transplantation by the development of a drug free immunosuppressive protocol. Award : $3.3 million over 4 years.

2017-2021 NH&MRC Senior Practitioner Fellowship. Award : $406,585.00 over 5 years.

Internationally positions of leadership he has held include: president of the Transplantation Society (2014-16), secretary/treasurer of the International Xenotransplant Association (2003-07) and a member of the Kidney & Pancreas Committee of the American Society of Transplantation 2000-03. He was a member of the program committee for the World Congress of Transplantation (2014 in San Francisco) and is chair of Program Committee, International Congress of Transplantation Society 2018, Madrid. He has been invited by the World Health Organisation to speak in several global consultations in transplantation.

I am passionate about training the next generation of clinician scientists and researchers. My aim is to provide mentorship by offering a dynamic research program with a focus on research translation, and by providing a unique opportunity for students to be involved with research programs that change clinical practice. This approach has attracted students from both scientific as well as medical backgrounds.

I have supervised 13 PhD students, two MBBS Honors students and one Masters student. Of the 13 doctoral students most have achieved ongoing successful careers in academic medicine or research. Many have received awards and/or travel grants as an indicator of their success.

Selected publications

1. O'CONNELL PJ, Zhang W, Menon M, et al. (2016) Biopsy transcriptome expression profiling to identify kidney transplants at risk of chronic injury: a multicentre prospective study. Lancet 388:983-93.

2. O'CONNELL PJ, Kuypers D, Mannon RR, et al. (2017) Clinical trials for immunosuppression in transplantation; the case for reform and change in direction. Transplantation In press.

3. Holmes-Walker DJ, Gunton JE, Payk M, Donath S, Hawthorne WJ, Loudovaris T, Anderson P, Ward GM, Kay TWH, O'CONNELL PJ for the Australian Islet Transplant consortium. (2016) Islet transplantation provides superior glycemic control with less hypoglycemia compared to continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) or multiple daily insulin injections (MDI). Transplantation In press.

4. Wu J, Hu M, Qian YW, Hawthorne WJ, Burns H, Liuwantara D, Alexander SI, Yi S, O'CONNELL PJ. (2016) In vivo co-stimulation blockade induced regulatory T cells demonstrate dominant and specific tolerance to porcine islet xenografts. Transplantation In press.

5. Menon MC, Chuang PY, Li Z, et al. (2015) Intronic locus determines SHROOM3 expression and potentiates renal allograft fibrosis. J Clin Invest 125:208-21.

6. Toki D, Zhang W, Hor KLM, Liuwantara D, Alexander SI, Yi Z, Sharma R, Chapman JR, Brian J Nankivell, Murphy B, O'CONNELL PJ. (2014) The role of macrophages in the development of human renal allograft fibrosis in the first year after transplantation. Am J Transplant 14:2126.

7. O'CONNELL PJ, Holmes-Walker DJ, Goodman D, et al for the Australian Islet Transplant Consortium. (2013) Multicenter Australian trial of islet transplantation: improving accessibility and outcomes. Am J Transplant 13:1850.

8. Yi S, Ji M, Wu J, Ma X, Phillips P, Hawthorne WJ, O'CONNELL PJ. (2012) Adoptive transfer with in vitro expanded human regulatory T cells protects against porcine islet xenograft rejection via interleukin-10 in humanized mice. Diabetes 61:1180.