The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their groundbreaking work on mRNA vaccines, which played a crucial role in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Their research, initially published in 2005 but overlooked at the time, fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system. This laid the foundation for the rapid development of vaccines during the crisis.
According to Rickard Sandberg, a member of the Nobel Prize committee, mRNA vaccines have had an enormous impact, with over 13 billion doses administered worldwide, saving millions of lives. These advancements not only enabled a faster response to the pandemic but also opened up possibilities for future applications. The mRNA method could potentially be used to develop vaccines for other diseases like malaria, HIV, and cancer, providing a new approach to treatment and prevention. One notable advantage of mRNA vaccines is that they only require the virus’s genetic sequence, not the virus itself, making the production process efficient and flexible.
Both Karikó and Weissman, professors at the University of Pennsylvania, faced skepticism and funding challenges early in their careers. However, their pioneering research now forms the basis for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Their work is hailed as having “changed the world” by J. Larry Jameson, executive vice president of UPenn’s School of Medicine.
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