Australia

Australian of the Year is injury research pioneer Alan Mackay-Sim

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim Image copyright National Australia Day Council
Image caption Prof Alan Mackay-Sim is a global authority on the biology of nasal cells

A biomedical scientist who helped restore mobility in a quadriplegic person for the first time has been named 2017's Australian of the Year.

Prof Alan Mackay-Sim, from Queensland, has spent decades researching spinal cord injuries.

A leader in stem cell research, Prof Mackay-Sim's work has been credited with prompting groundbreaking advances.

Australia's most prestigious civic honour is awarded each year to a person considered a national role model.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented Prof Mackay-Sim with the award at a ceremony in Canberra on Wednesday.

The Griffith University emeritus professor was honoured ahead of finalists from the seven other states and territories, including refugee and lawyer Deng Adut, who had been considered the frontrunner.

Breakthrough research

Prof Mackay-Sim has been described as a global authority on the biology of nasal cells, which he used in a world-first clinical trial to treat spinal cord injury.

According to Griffith University, the trial was central to a 2014 operation that restored mobility to Polish man Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down after a knife attack.

Image copyright National Australia Day Council
Image caption Prof Mackay-Sim has spent decades researching spinal cord injuries

Prof Mackay-Sim also spent a decade as director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, investigating the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases including schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and hereditary spastic paraplegia.

Passing the baton

Prof Mackay-Sim succeeds former army chief and equality advocate David Morrison, who has used his platform to promote diversity and inclusion.

In his final speech as Australian of the Year on Wednesday, Mr Morrison highlighted domestic violence and the gender pay gap as issues that still challenged the nation.

He also rejected criticism the awards had become too political.

"The award of Australian of the Year is not without its critics," he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Morrison gives his valedictory speech on Wednesday

"But I think it is one of the ways we, as citizens of this great country, can for a moment or hopefully longer focus on what makes us who we are."

The Australian of the Year awards are announced on the eve of Australia Day each year.

Other recent winners include Rosie Batty, an anti-domestic violence campaigner, Adam Goodes, a sportsman and advocate for indigenous and youth issues, and Ita Buttrose, a media personality who has championed education and health.

Other 2017 awards

Young Australian of the Year: Fashion designer Paul Vasileff, 26, has had his acclaimed work featured on runways around the world, and won admiration for establishing a couture label in Adelaide that employs 13 people.

Senior Australian of the Year: Sister Anne Gardiner, 85, a Catholic nun who moved to the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory when she was 22, has been honoured for her community service and work to document and preserve the local Tiwi language.

Australia's Local Hero: Vicki Jellie raised A$5m (£3m; $3.8m) from the community, and A$25m from state and federal governments, to build a radiotherapy treatment centre in western Victoria, fulfilling the dream of her husband, Peter, who died of cancer in 2008.

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