Award de­bate

Con­fu­sion over claims, tri­als and other sci­en­tific achieve­ment

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - AN­DREW JEFFERSON an­drew.jefferson@news.com.au @AndyJ­effo

CLAIMS that the sci­en­tific achieve­ments of newly crowned Aus­tralian of the Year Alan Mackay-Sim have been over­stated are wrong, his for­mer uni­ver­sity says.

Doubts were cast on Prof Mackay-Sim’s con­tri­bu­tion in help­ing quad­ri­plegic Pol­ish man Dar­iusz Fidyka walk again, af­ter the doc­tor who per­formed the ground­break­ing surgery said his “in­volve­ment was zero”.

Prof Mackay-Sim, who re­cently re­tired from Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity, was cred­ited as lead­ing the world-first team that showed trans­plan­ta­tion of ol­fac­tory en­sheath­ing cells found in the ner­vous sys­tem into the hu­man spinal cord was pos­si­ble and safe in hu­mans. In an­nounc­ing the award on Aus­tralia Day, the Na­tional Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil said Prof Mackay-Sim’s re­search “played a cen­tral role in the world’s first suc­cess­ful restora­tion of mo­bil­ity in a quad­ri­plegic man”.

But Pawel Tabakow, the doc­tor who per­formed the pi­o­neer­ing surgery on Mr Fidyka, said Prof Mackay-Sim’s work had noth­ing to do with the re­search or surgery.

“It is not our busi­ness who should be Aus­tralian of the Year, but it is our busi­ness when his work is be­ing linked to the surgery of Fidyka,” Dr Tabakow told The Week­end Aus­tralian. “He has no link what­so­ever.” Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity spokesman Dean Gould said at no point had Prof Mackay-Sim, Grif­fith Uni­ver­sity, or the Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil claimed that Prof Mackay-Sim was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the out­come achieved on the Pol­ish pa­tient in 2014.

“The work of Dr Tabakow is to be ap­plauded ... how­ever, it is with­out dis­pute that Prof Alan Mackay-Sim’s clin­i­cal tri­als pub­lished in 2005 and 2008 paved the way for the on­go­ing work be­ing done to­day in the study and de­vel­op­ment of stem cell trans­plan­ta­tion,” Mr Gould said.

Prof Mackay-Sim said he was not sur­prised by the Pol­ish doc­tor’s re­ac­tion to his award.

“Ob­vi­ously I don’t know what he was told, but I’m not sur­prised if any sci­en­tist feels that they haven’t been prop­erly cred­ited for their dis­cov­ery,” he said.

“I al­ways say that we did the first phase of clin­i­cal tri­als and the aim of those tri­als was to show it was safe.

“I’m al­ways very con­scious about giv­ing credit where credit is due. Sci­ence is an in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion so I’m over the moon with the sub­se­quent re­sults that they’ve had (in Poland).”

A spokes­woman from the Na­tional Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil con­ceded there had been con­fu­sion in some me­dia re­ports re­lat­ing to Prof Mack­aySim’s re­search.

Alan Mackay-Sim

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