Biomedical scientist Alan Mackay-Sim has been named the 2017 Australian of the Year for his stem cell research that helped a quadriplegic man to restore his mobility. His Australian of the Year award was presented to him by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday night.
In 2014, Emeritus Professor Mackay-Sim’s work helped Polish firefighter Darek Fidyka become the first paraplegic to recover mobility. The 65-year-old professor used nasal cavity cells and inject them to the spinal cord.
According to Geoffrey Raisman, a British professor of neural regeneration, Mackay-Sim’s achievement was more impressive than man walking on the moon. However, when Mackay-Sim was awarded the Queensland’s Australian of the Year, he thought that he did not deserve it because many researchers were also involved in his study.
Alan Mackay-Sim hopes that the award he got would increase the public’s awareness about spinal cord injuries and studies into rare brain illnesses. The professor added that Australia should also prioritize research and health spending.
“Researchers need a long view, much longer than the political horizon. More than 10,000 people in Australia have a spinal injury and we add to that tally by a person every day and the cost to Australia is about $2 billion annually,” Mackay-Sim states, according to Sydney Morning Herald. “Now 60 years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to move away from the idea that spinal cord injuries could not be treated and intense research in the last 20 years gives hope that future spinal cord injuries will be treated early and the effects minimized.”
The Senior Australian of the Year was awarded to Sister Anne Gardiner, an 85-year-old Catholic nun who supported Tiwi culture as well as promoting the Bathurst Island’s local community. Meanwhile, the Young Australian of the Year was given to Paul Vasileff, a 26-year-old fashion designer that created works that have been used on the Oscars red carpet.