The retired biomedical scientist, whose ground-breaking stem-cell research was instrumental in helping a paralysed man walk again, accepted the prestigious award during a live announcement at Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day eve.
Professor Mackay-Sim has spent his career researching how nerve cells in the nose regenerate and pioneered a way to safely apply that same regenerative process to damaged spinal cords.
Recognised as the 2003 Queenslander of the Year and the 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year, Professor Mackay-Sim will now spend the next year fulfilling his duties for the Australian title while still overseeing several research projects at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery.
Those projects include stem cell research into treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the importance of research on spinal cord injury and brain diseases,” Professor Mackay-Sim said in his speech.
“About new treatments using stem cells and cell transplantation, undreamed of 20 years ago. About how we must, as Australians, prioritise our spending so that we can afford not only to look after the diseased and disabled in our communities but also to afford the research for new and radical treatments to reduce future health costs.
“As a nation we must be part of this. And we must invest in young scientists.”
Professor Mackay-Sim highlighted the vital need for continued support and funding for research to ensure this life changing work isn’t compromised.
Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O’Connor congratulated Professor Mackay-Sim on his national award.
“Griffith University is extremely proud to have such a remarkable man and scientist among us,” he said.
“Alan’s research has laid the foundation for global efforts to use stem cell surgery to repair spinal cord injury. It is an extraordinary field.
“He is a deserved recipient of Australian of the Year and we join the rest of the country in applauding him.”
Pro Vice Chancellor (Sciences) Professor Andrew Smith said, “We are delighted Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and his research has been recognised at the highest level. Griffith Sciences Group remains committed to supporting this pioneering stem cell research towards new innovative treatments for spinal injury.”