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Two Scientists Awarded Nobel Prizes For Breakthroughs In MRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

Two scientists awarded Nobel prizes for breakthroughs in mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking work on the mRNA vaccines.

Kenzo Norman
Oct 03, 20231946 Shares81092 Views
Two scientists awarded Nobel prizes for breakthroughs in mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking work on the mRNA vaccines.
The Nobel Prize committee made the prestigious announcement in Sweden on Monday, recognizing the profound impact of the scientists' research. Their work, according to the committee, has significantly reshaped our comprehension of how mRNA interacts with our immune system.
In 2005, Karikó and Weissman published a paper that initially garnered little attention. However, this unassuming publication laid the essential groundwork for crucial developments that played a pivotal role in humanity's battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.- Nobel Prize committee
Rickard Sandberg, a member of the Nobel Prize in Medicine committee, said, "mRNA vaccines together with other COVID-19 vaccines have been administered over 13 billion times. Together they have saved millions of lives, prevented severe COVID-19, reduced the overall disease burden, and enabled societies to open up again."
Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian-American biochemist, and Drew Weissman, an American physician, both hold professorships at the University of Pennsylvania. Their pioneering work laid the foundation for Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as well as Moderna, to employ a novel approach in vaccine production utilizing messenger RNA (mRNA).
This groundbreaking technology has ushered in a new era in medicine, with the potential to develop vaccines for other diseases such as malaria, RSV, and HIV. It also offers a fresh perspective on combating infectious diseases like cancer, with the possibility of tailored vaccines.

Messenger RNA

Researchers often liken DNA to an extensive recipe book containing all the instructions for life. Messenger RNA (mRNA) can be thought of as a transient, single-stranded segment of this genetic code that cells can interpret, much like a handwritten copy of a recipe in the context of this analogy.
In the case of mRNA vaccines, this ephemeral genetic code is utilized to instruct cells to generate a structure resembling a portion of a virus. This prompts the body to produce antibodies and specialized immune system cells in response. Unlike traditional vaccines, there is no injection of a live or weakened virus at any point in this process.
All that's required is the specific genetic sequence; vaccine developers don't even need the actual virus itself, only its genetic blueprint.
"The impressive flexibility and speed with which mRNA vaccines can be developed pave the way for using the new platform also for vaccines against other infectious diseases," the Nobel committee said, adding that the technology "may also be used to deliver therapeutic proteins and treat some cancer types."
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman standing beside each other
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman standing beside each other
J. Larry Jameson, the Executive Vice President of UPenn's School of Medicine, lauded the scientists' achievements, describing their work as having "changed the world."
During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, vaccine developers relied upon the discoveries by Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, which saved innumerable lives and paved a path out of the pandemic. More than 15 years after their visionary laboratory partnership, Kati and Drew have made an everlasting imprint on medicine.- J. Larry Jameson
The Nobel Prize announcements commenced in Sweden on Monday and will extend into the following week. Over the coming days, we can anticipate the unveiling of awards in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, and economics. Additionally, the Nobel Peace Prize will be disclosed in Norway on Friday.

The Road To The Nobel

Karikó, aged 68, embarked on her career in her homeland of Hungary during the 1970s when mRNA research was still in its infancy. She, along with her husband and young daughter, made the journey to the United States after she received an invitation from Temple University in Philadelphia. To fund their move, they sold their car and discreetly stashed the proceeds, which amounted to approximately $1,200, inside their daughter's teddy bear for safekeeping.
"We had just moved into our new apartment, our daughter was 2 years old, everything was so good, we were happy," Karikó told the Hungarian news site G7of her family's departure. "But we had to go."
She continued her research at Temple University before joining UPenn's School of Medicine in the 19xxs. However, by that time, the initial enthusiasm surrounding mRNA research had begun to wane. Optimism had given way to skepticism, with many considering Karikó's concept of using mRNA to combat diseases as too revolutionary and financially precarious to support.
Karikó applied for numerous grants, but a series of rejections led to her being demoted from her position at UPenn in 1995. This challenging period was compounded by a simultaneous cancer diagnosis.
"It was difficult because people did not believe that messenger RNA can be a therapy," Karikó stated in an interview in December 2020, during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, she persevered. "Together with my colleague, Drew Weissman, at the University of Pennsylvania, we developed a method where we modified one component in the RNA, making it less likely to trigger an immune response. This opened up the possibility for various forms of therapies," Karikó explained.
Karikó and Weissman crossed paths serendipitously in the late 1990s while photocopying research papers. In 2005, they published their pivotal discovery: mRNA could be modified and effectively delivered into the body to activate the body's innate immune defenses.
Weissman mentioned that their technology is significantly more efficient compared to traditional vaccine production methods.
"When the Chinese released the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we started the process of making RNA the next day. A couple of weeks later, we were injecting animals with the vaccine," he explained.
At that time, Karikó expressed no surprise at the favorable outcomes of Pfizer and Moderna's trials. She commented, "I expected that it would work because we already had enough experiments."
She marked the successful trial results with a bag of Goobers, her favorite chocolate-covered peanuts, but she noted, "I'm not an exuberant person."
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