Professor Alan Mackay-Sim named 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year

Griffith University’s Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been named the 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year for his work with stem cells and how they can be used to help repair damaged spinal cords.

The Emeritus Professor at Griffith’s Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery has given hope to thousands of Australians with spinal cord injuries through his world-leading research.

“What an honour it is to win amongst such a group of wonderful Queenslanders,” Professor Mackay-Sim said at the awards, held at Customs House in Brisbane.

“For myself, I represent a whole team of scientists and clinicians who have been part of the success of contributing to the award.”


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Professor Mackay-Sim is recognised as a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells.

He led the world’s first clinical trial using these cells in treatment of spinal cord injury. The trial results were key to the world’s first successful operation to restore mobility for a quadriplegic man in 2014.

Paralysed man walks again

At the time of the successful 2014 operation British Professor Geoffrey Raisman likened the outcome for the paralysed man, Darek Fidyka,  as ‘more impressive than man walking on the moon’.

Professor Mackay-Sim has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of multiple brain disorders and diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.

He said the award reflected the quality of research that was being done in Australia and would help raise awareness of stem cell research.

“It raises the issue of disability in the community and the importance of scientific research to advance clinical therapies,’’ he said.

Professor Mackay-Sim will join other states and territory finalists for the national awards, which will be held in Canberra on January 25, 2017.

Researchers at the Griffith University Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, are preparing to conduct clinical trials by 2018 focused on restoring motor and sensory function to badly injured people. The research builds on Professor Mackay-Sim’s research.

Griffith alumnus Dr Nora Amath was also a Queensland finalist for the awards.