This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to two distinguished scientists, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, for their groundbreaking contributions to the development of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19, a monumental achievement that played a pivotal role in curbing the global pandemic. Furthermore, this innovative technology is also being used in the battle against cancer and various other diseases.
Traditionally, vaccines have operated by introducing a weakened or inactivated form of a pathogen into the body. This prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that are specifically tailored to combat the pathogen. Subsequently, when exposed to the actual pathogen, the body rapidly recalls how to generate these antibodies, effectively preventing the onset of illness. In contrast, mRNA vaccines represent a novel approach.
Karikó and Weissman’s journey began with their deep exploration of mRNA, a molecule responsible for conveying genetic instructions from DNA to cells. This process allows cells to manufacture proteins according to the mRNA’s directives. Karikó and Weissman believed that if they could control this process, mRNA could be used to instruct cells to create their own cures.
In the realm of mRNA vaccines, a synthetic mRNA sequence, initially synthesized in a laboratory, serves as the instructor. It imparts knowledge to our cells on how to synthesize a specific protein that triggers an immune response within our bodies. This immune response, which can produce antibodies, is what prevents sickness and disease in the future.
Leveraging the pioneering research of Karikó and Weissman, scientists succeeded in formulating an mRNA sequence that emulated the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, the protein responsible for entering host cells. This essentially resulted in the harmless production of a facsimile of the coronavirus within our cells, leading to the development of antibodies capable of defeating the virus. When faced with the actual coronavirus in the future, our immune system, equipped with the memory of these antibodies, can swiftly neutralize the virus and thwart the onset of the disease.
The mRNA vaccine, born out of the groundbreaking work of Karikó and Weissman, has seen action billions of times worldwide and saved countless lives. As Rickard Sandberg, a prominent member of the Nobel Prize in Medicine board, aptly stated,
“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.”
Written by Kevin HanShare this: