CANBERRA, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, a stem cell pioneer and biomolecular scientist who helped restore the mobility of a quadriplegic man, has been named the 2017 Australian of the Year.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement ahead of Australia Day celebrations set to take place on Thursday around the nation.
In 2014, Mackay-Sim's work and research was instrumental in the success of a surgery to restore mobility to a man who was left quadriplegic after being stabbed 18 times. The success of the surgery was described by many as the scientific equivalent of the moon landing.
He is also currently the director of the National Center for Adult Stem Cell Research in Australia, and is often turned to as a global expert on matters regarding the sense of smell and nasal cells.
In accepting his award, Mackay-Sim said it was an "unbelievable honor."
"I'm so proud and shocked and horrified to be the 2017 Australian of the Year," he said.
Mackay-Sim also used his acceptance speech to raise awareness for the importance of further researching brain and spinal cord injuries.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could treat spinal cord injury and reduce the cost and reduce the suffering and increase the productivity of all of those people with spinal cord injuries?" he told the room.
"Sixty years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to move away from the idea that spinal cord injuries could not be treated. Intense research in the last 20 years gives hope that future spinal cord injuries will be treated early and the effects minimized."
Mackay-Sim won the award ahead of a number of other finalists including mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, and Deng Adut - a former Sudanese child soldier who is now a lawyer in Sydney.
He joins a prestigious list of Australian of the Year winners, including footballer Adam Goodes, family violence activist Rosie Batty and Lieutenant General David Morrison - a gender equality advocate.