Medical Research’s future in Australia is shining bright with thanks to the 2017 Australian of the Year Biomolecular scientist Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, whose research helped restore mobility in a quadriplegic man.
While many past Australians of the Year have had a high profile, this year’s winner, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, was working behind the scenes to make a difference.
Professor Mackay-Sim has dedicated his life to researching stem cells which has led to ground-breaking treatment of spinal cord injuries.
In 2014, his research helped the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man, a breakthrough described as the scientific equivalent of the moon landing.
For thousands of years it was thought impossible to regenerate the spinal cord. Now we know it’s both possible and safe, thanks to the work of the Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and his research team.
The Queensland resident is an international leader in stem cell research and his work has given hope to thousands of people. He is considered a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells.
In accepting the award, Professor Mackay-Sim started off his Australian of the Year acceptance speech by wishing his “seven new best friends” — the other finalists — were with him, showing the true calibre of the man he is.
He also used his speech to discuss 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.”
He has urged politicians to think beyond the political cycle when it comes to research funding. Something that would help all medical researchers not only within our local hospitals but within our nation.
Professor Mackay-Sim went on to say “Wouldn’t it be great if we could treat spinal cord injury and reduce the cost and reduce the suffering and increase the productivity of all of those people with spinal cord injuries?”
“Sixty years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to move away from the idea that spinal cord injuries could not be treated. Intense research in the last 20 years gives hope that future spinal cord injuries will be treated early and the effects minimised.”
“It’s an unbelievable honour and in accepting it, I want to deeply thank and acknowledge all my friends and colleagues and students, the teams of people who have worked with me, their late nights, their hard work, their great ideas have led me to stand here in front of you and I dedicate this to them.”
What is Professor Mackay-Sim’s research?
Professor Mackay-Sim is a global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells.
He started research in the late 1980s on the olfactory organ responsible for the sense of smell.
He noted that unlike spinal cord cells, olfactory sensory neurons had the capacity to regenerate throughout a lifetime.
While it took some 20 years of research, that led to the world’s first successful human clinical trial in Brisbane.
He and his team proved it was safe to transplant nasal cells to the spinal cord.
The now retired, Professor Mackay-Sim, who was also the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research’s director, has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases including schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.
His research has already identified differences in nerve cell regeneration in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that give a better understanding of how those diseases develop.
Professor Mackay-Sim himself has benefited from his own stem cell transplant. A few years ago he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells.
In 2017, the St George & Sutherland Medical Research Foundation (SSMRF) celebrates 10 years since we began. 10 years since we started funding research in your local hospitals, 10 years since we started to investigate lung disease, mental health, aged care, kidney disease, trauma (including brain temperature regulation), women & children’s health, malaria, immunity (including asthma), allergies & skin diseases, heart disease, strokes, blood clots, sciatica, sepsis, swallowing dysfunction & cancer.
Research is vital to healthcare, not only because it is the pathway to better understanding diseases and finding new and better treatments, but because excellent research in our hospitals is the best way to attract and retain the very best medical staff, and to extend the breadth and depth of the medical services provided.
Professor Mackay-Sim took some 20 years to discover a breakthrough, SSMRF is only 10 years old in 2017, some of the research we are funding is only a few years old, some is closer to 10 years. By supporting and donating to SSMRF today you could be contributing to the next ground-breaking research.
Your support, allows medical research not only within your local hospitals to continue, it allows the research and its findings to reach a greater audience around the world, as without medical research, medicine stands still.