Alan Mackay-Sim, world-leading researcher, hailed Australian of the Year for 2017

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A researcher extracts a protein sample at the University of Louvain's Institute of Experimental and Clinical Research in Brussels
A researcher extracts a protein sample at the University of Louvain's Institute of Experimental and Clinical Research. Reuters/Francois Lenoir

Australian of the Year for 2017 has been named and the honour was given to world-leading researcher Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented the award to Mackay-Sim during a ceremony at parliament house in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Mackay-Sim is a biomolecular scientist best known for his research that led to the first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man. He has led the world’s first clinical test in which nasal cavity cells were utilised for the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

In 2014, the clinical trial has resulted to world-first surgery on a paralysed man named Darek Fidyka. The patient has managed to walk again with the use of a frame after the procedure. Geoffrey Raisman, a British professor of neural regeneration, has described the successful procedure as “more impressive than man walking on the moon.”

The 2017 Australian of the Year awardee is also a former director of the national centre for adult stem cell research at Brisbane’s Griffith University. Now 65 years old, he spent his years championing the use of stem cells in order to comprehend the biological causes of brain disorders, which include Parkinson’s disease and schizophreni.

Mackay-Sim is now retired. He was diagnosed with a rare type of leukaemia, which is not curable.

Meanwhile, the Senior Australian of the Year award was presented to Sister Anne Gardiner AM from the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. The 85-year-old was honoured for devoting 62 years of her life in the promotion of the Tiwi culture and working to preserve its language.

Twenty-six year old fashion designer and international business entrepreneur Paul Vasileff from Adelaide was named as the Young Australian of the Year. He runs his business in South Australia and employs local staff to create garments featured on international runway.