Renowned physicist, Frederick Seitz, astutely said, “A good scientist is a person in whom the childhood quality of perennial curiosity lingers on. Once he gets an answer, he has other questions.”

For Queensland stem cell researcher, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, curiosity reigns as king.

On Australia Day-eve, Prof Mackay-Sim received the 2017 Australian of the Year award for his unwavering commitment to scientific research in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Prof Mackay-Sim is a leading authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells.

In the 1980’s he began researching the olfactory organ responsible for the sense of smell and there capacity to regenerate throughout a lifetime.

Every single day inside our nose, the nerve cells that allow us to smell, die, and every single day these cells get regenerated.

Prof MacKay-Sim posed the question: if these nasal cells can regenerate every single day, could they be used to restore damaged nerve cells in the spinal cord?

“Early on, I thought if we understand the biology, we might be able to use this for some clinical purpose. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how. I thought perhaps we could repair the nervous system in some way,” said Prof MacKay-Sim.

Fast forward 20 years and Prof MacKay-Sim was coordinating the world’s first successful human clinical trial in Brisbane.

In 2014, his research played a vital role in the world’s first effective restoration of mobility in Polish resident, Darek Fidyka, who had been paralysed from the chest down following a knife attack.

A breakthrough of which has since been described as the scientific equivalent to the moon landing.

The Professor used his speech as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of research on spinal cord injuries, rare blood diseases, and the future of stem cell 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.

“As a nation, we must be part of this, and we must invest in young scientists and give them greater careers,” said Prof MacKay-Sim.

VIVA! Communications extend our congratulations to Prof Macaky-Sim and wish him all the best in his future scientific and personal endeavours.

To learn more about Prof Macaky-Sim’s research, watch this video here.