Medical researcher named Australian of the Year

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Biomedical research Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, whose research helped restore mobility in a quadriplegic man, has been named Australian of the Year.

Professor Mackay-Sim is the director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research and considered a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells.

In 2014, his research into stem cells played a major role in the world's first successful restoration of mobility. Darek Fidyka had been paralysed from the chest down after a knife attack but walked again after groundbreaking surgery overseas.

That surgery and outcome has been described as the scientific equivalent of the 'moon landing'. It would not have been possible without the work done by Professor Mackay-Sim.

In his research, which started in the late 1980s on the olfactory organ responsible for the sense of smell, Professor Mackay-Sim observed that, unlike spinal cord cells, olfactory sensory neurons had the capacity to regenerate throughout a lifetime.

The research led to the world's first successful human clinical trial in Brisbane.

Professor Mackay-Sim, 65, himself received a stem cell transplant two years ago after being diagnosed with myeloma.

In his acceptance speech, Professor Mackay-Sim spoke of the importance of investing in long-term support for young scientists. He also discussed the importance of research on spinal cord injuries, rare brain diseases, the therapeutic futures of stem cells and cell transplantation.

"We must, as Australians, prioritise our spending so that we can afford not only to look after the disabled and the diseased in our community, but to look at future radical treatments that will reduce future health costs," he said.

"As a nation, we must be part of this and we must invest in young scientists and give them great careers. Researchers need a long view, much longer than the political horizon."