Biomedical scientist Alan Mackay-Sim, whose research helped achieve a feat described as “more impressive than man walking on the moon”, has been named the 2017 Australian of the Year for his pioneering stem cell research, The Age reports.
Professor Mackay-Sim’s work was central to the 2014 surgery that allowed Darek Fidyka, a Polish firefighter, to walk again and even ride a custom-built bicycle. This made him the first paraplegic in the world to recover mobility after the complete severing of the spinal nerves. The success was hailed by fellow researcher Geoff Raisman as more impressive than the moon landing
Mr Fidyka, who had been stabbed 18 times in the back by his partner’s former husband four years earlier, described the feeling of recovering movement in his legs as akin to being “born again”.
Professor Mackay-Sim, 65, himself relied on a stem cell transplant two years ago when he was diagnosed with Myeloma a rare form of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow.
He is expected to use the award to increase awareness of the importance of medical research. His appointment follows former army chief David Morrison, who was recognised last year for his work promoting gender equality and diversity.
Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher offered a “bravo” to Prof Mackay-Sim for all he had achieved for others.
“His ground-breaking research on nasal adult stem-cells has proven that wonderful medicine is possible without unethical experiments on embryos,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Bravo Dr Mackay-Sim, we are very proud of you!”
Large image: Giffith University/YouTube