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Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim named Australian of the Year.

While many past Australians of the Year have had a high-profile, this year’s winner was working behind the scenes to make a difference.

Here’s a little bit more about this year’s winner, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.

So who is he?

He has spent his life dedicated to research.

The Queensland resident is an international leader in stem cell research and his work has given hope to thousands of people.

In 2014, that research played a major role in the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in Darek Fidyka.

He had been paralysed from the chest down after a knife attack, but went on to walk again after ground-breaking surgery overseas.

That feat has been described as the scientific equivalent to the moon landing, and would not have been possible without the work done by Professor Mackay-Sim.

What was the 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.

What else does his research look at?

Now retired, Professor Mackay-Sim’s, 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 to how those diseases develop.

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It hasn’t all been without a bit of hardship

Professor Mackay-Sim recently shared his cancer diagnosis.

A few years ago he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells.

The stem-cell researcher even needed his own stem-cell transplant.

Here’s what he said when he won Queensland’s Australian of the Year

“I would hope that it’s going to boost research in the area,” he told the ABC.

“It will give it a lot more public exposure, and I think it will provide people spinal cord injuries a feeling that things are happening.

“And it will be possible to do something about this.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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