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Australian of the Year’s Study Helps Paralysed Man Walk

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The Queensland Australian of the Year for 2017 not only has one of the most majestic moustaches in recent history, but his groundbreaking research has helped a paralysed man regain mobility.

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim is a global authority in stem cell research. He started research on the nasal cells in the 1980’s and discovered that olfactory neurons rejuvenate in the body, whereas spinal cord cells do not.

Here is a video of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki explaining Professor  Mackay-Sim’s research.

It took 20 years of research before the first clinical trial in Brisbane. Now this research played a major role in helping Polish firefighter Darek Fidyka walk again, after he was left paralysed from the chest down after a knife-attack in 2010.

Australian of the Year's stem cell research
A diagram of Derek Fidyka’s spinal injury was repaired. Source.

For a man whose research has changed lives for the better, and will hopefully continue to in the future, Professor Mackay-Sim has also had his own health problems. He was diagnosed with multiple-myeloma (cancer of the blood) and even need his own stem cell transplant.

“I received an autologous stem cell transplant but fortunately I was healthy enough to have a transplant. I won’t lie and say it was easy. The treatment became really tough,” the Professor said.

At the Australian of the Year award ceremony, his acceptance speech revealed just how humble this extraordinary man is. While addressing the seven other nominees he stated, “I’m sure the only difference between us is my moustache.”

Australian of the Year's stem cell research
Just look at that moustache. Source.

The research has also been beneficial to understanding the biological basis other disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar and Parkinson’s disease. So in the future, Professor Mackay-Sim’s research may not only help the 12,000 people affected by spinal cord injuries in Australia, but a multitude of diseases, changing lives for the better globally.

“…I think that stem cells and this approach of ‘disease in a dish’ [recreating diseases in a petri dish] can help because we can get cells from individuals and be investigating disease in these rare conditions in ways we couldn’t do before.”