Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been named Australian of the Year for 2017 at a ceremony in Canberra.
The (until now) little known biomolecular scientist is responsible for groundbreaking work in the area of stem-cell research and spinal cord injuries, based on his research of smell.
Queenslander Professor Mackay-Sim (pictured above) studied the biology of smell for over 20 years and ultimately proved that regenerating nasal cells could be transplanted into the spinal cord.
The research led to the world’s first successful restoration of mobility to a paraplegic sufferer. Polish fighter Darek Fidyka was able to walk again in 2014 following treatment based on Professor Mackay-Sim’s work.
The feat was compared by a colleague involved in the surgery to the moon landing in terms of its scientific importance.
— Griffith Alumni (@griffithalumni) January 25, 2017
“Sixty years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to move away from the idea that spinal cord injuries could not be treated,” Prof. Mackay-Sim noted in his speech accepting the honour on Wednesday night in Canberra.
“Intense research in the last 20 years gives hope that future spinal cord injuries will be treated early and the effects minimised,” he said.
At the ceremony, Australia Day honours were also given to Vicki Jellie as Australia’s Local Hero, Sister Anne Gardiner as Senior Australian of the Year, and Paul Vasileff as Young Australian of Year.
Before receiving the Australian of the Year award, Prof. Mackay-Sim told The Courier Mail “I’m not into celebrity”.
“Obviously it’s a great recognition for a life’s work for me and my team and all the people I’ve worked with over the years but then you wonder, well, gee, I’m just one scientist who’s been plucked out,” he said.