Griffith spinal cord repair work showcased at Eureka Awards

Groundbreaking spinal cord repair research at Griffith University is under the spotlight as
Professor Alan Mackay-Sim is one of three finalists named in the Medical Translation
category at this year’s Annual Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim is Deputy Director of Griffith’s Eskitis Institute for Cell and

Molecular Therapies. His research has shown that nasal cells can be transplanted to repair the injured spinal cord in animal studies.

The Medical Translation Award nomination is for his team’s world first transplantation of these

cells into people with paraplegia and brings hope to many people with spinal cord injuries.

Professor Mackay-Sim is also calling on locals of all ages to support him in his bid as one

of six finalists in the Eureka Prizes People’s Choice Award 2011.

The award goes to the scientist who receives the most online votes during the voting


Professor Mackay-Sim’s research involves taking an individual’s own cells, growing them in the lab and then transplanting them into their injured spinal cord. The cells used, come

from the nose where they normally help regenerate the nerves of the sense of smell after damage. This promises to be a new therapy to treat spinal cord injury.

“Traumatic spinal cord injury is a life-changing event that affects people for the rest of their lives,” he said.

“It’s not just about loss of movement and sensation but affects all aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing.

“Traditionally the dogma says that a spinal cord injury cannot be treated, only managed,

but animal studies have now proven this wrong. This is a win for people in wheelchairs and gives hope for everyone that future injuries will not be a life sentence.”

Animal studies by Professor Mackay-Sim and his team suggest that this method may be

able to repair the catastrophic damage that paralyses between 250 and 300 Australians

every year.

The first human trial to test the safety of transplanting the olfactory ensheathing cells into the spine under rigorous clinical trial conditions was directed by Professor Mackay-Sim in Brisbane between 2005 and 2008. It saw three participants with significant spinal fractures have between 12 million and 20 million of their own lab-cultivated nasal cells transplanted into their spines as part of a controlled blind study.

After three years careful monitoring, the trial demonstrated that the procedure is safe. At

the same time, while the participants had such significant spinal injuries that improvement

wasn’t expected, one recipient did have a marked enhancement in sensitivity to touch

and pin pricks.

Professor Mackay-Sim is currently leading an international collaboration to extend their

clinical trial to centres in Italy and China. Scientists and clinicians from the two countries

are visiting the Eskitis Institute for training in cell culture and surgical techniques as part

of the lead into a multi-centre human clinical trial.

To find out more about Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and vote for him, visit