Stem cell researcher Alan Mackay-Sim named 2017 Australian of the Year

A biomolecular scientist whose work has been called 'more impressive than the moon landing' has been named the 2017 Australian of the Year.

 Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has given hope to thousands of Australians with spinal cord injuries.

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has given hope to thousands of Australians with spinal cord injuries. Source: Australian of the Year Awards

Queensland biomolecular professor Alan Mackay-Sim has been named the 2017 Australian of the Year.
The Griffith University professor has spent his career looking at the regenerative properties of stem cells and how they can be used to repair damaged spinal cords.

"I'm so proud and shocked and horrified to be the 2017 Australian of the Year," he said in his acceptance speech. "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."

The Emeritus Professor's clinical trials in 2002 played a key role in the world's first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man in 2014.
A world first, the technique used cells from the nose to treat spinal cord injury, the research offered hope to thousands of Australians with the condition.

British professor Geoffrey Raisman, who was part of the surgery that allowed paralysed Polish firefighter Darek Fidyka to walk again, said the outcome was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".
Professor Mackay-Sim was hopeful the win will raise awareness of the issue, and of scientific research in general.

"I'm hoping 2017 will be a wonderful opportunity to talk about the importance of research on spinal cord and rare brain diseases," he said. "About the therapeutic futures of stem cells and cell transplantation, which were 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 disabled and the diseased in our community, but to look at future radical treatments that will reduce future health costs."
Professor Mackay-Sim has also served as the director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research for a decade, and championed the use of stem cells to try and better understand brain disorders such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.
Meanwhile, community fundraising champion Vicki Jellie from Warrnambool, Victoria has been named Australia's Local Hero of 2017.
After her husband Peter died of cancer, Mrs Jellie found his plans for a local cancer fundraiser.
His dream to bring radiotherapy services to the South West of Victoria became Vicki’s passion. It was here she initiated “Peter's Project” – a community group dedicated to fighting for improved cancer services.
"We can all make a difference, no matter how small or large it is," she said. "No matter where we live in this great country, in a tiny country town or in a city, don't be afraid to step forward and talk about what you believe in and what your dream is.
"Lead by example, with optimism and courage and implement something new."

The 2017 Senior Australian of the Year is 85-year-old Sister Anne Gardiner AM of Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.
She arrived on Bathurst Island in 1953 and has worked tirelessly with the indigenous community.
As well as being principal of the local primary school, she runs regular prayer meetings and over the years has set up several community clubs - from mothers' groups to Little Athletics.
"I invite all Australians to support people such as the Tiwi to be visible as Australians to all Australians," she said. "I pray that all people in our wonderful country, Australia, regardless of language, culture, skin colour or religious belief, may stand tall as proud Australians."
Malcolm Turnbull with the 2017 Australian of the Year finalists
Malcolm Turnbull has hosted a morning tea at The Lodge for 2017 Australian of the Year finalists. (AAP) Source: AAP

And the 2017 Young Australian of the Year is acclaimed fashion designer and international business entrepreneur Paul Vasileff of Adelaide, South Australia.
His creations, under the couture label Paolo Sebastian, have ruffled feathers across the globe but are all hand made by 15 locally-employed staff.
They are sold in boutiques around the world, including New York, and are often featured on runways and worn by celebrities on red carpets at the Oscars.

The Kardashians, style guru Giuliana Rancic and host of 'The Project' Carrie Bickmore have been among his big-name clients.
Mr Vasileff founded the brand at the age of 17, six years after stitching his first dress with the help of his grandmother. 
"Australia's future is dependent on innovation and people to follow their dreams and skills," he said. "I've been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to live out my dream, and my hope for Australia is that our young people can have the same opportunity and our local businesses are supported and given the chance to grow."

5 min read
Published 25 January 2017 at 8:52pm
Source: AAP, SBS News