Creators of the basis of the covid vaccine win the Nobel Prize in Medicine

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Scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, who discovered the bases for achieving the vaccine against covid-19, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine yesterday.

Karikó, a Hungarian biochemist, and Weissman, an American researcher, were awarded for their discoveries about messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA).

“The discoveries of the two Nobel Prize winners were fundamental to developing effective mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020,” the jury said.

By choosing these researchers, who were already on the list of favorites, the Nobel Committee in Stockholm broke with its tradition of recognizing works with several decades of experience.

“Through their groundbreaking discoveries, which fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the awardees contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.” , added the ruling.

Karikó, 68, and Weissman, 64, work together at the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States, and have already won several awards for their research, including the Lasker Award, considered a precursor to the Nobel Prize.

The technology awarded yesterday dates back to 2005 but the first vaccines that used messenger RNA were developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna against covid-19 during the pandemic.

Since then, billions of such doses have been injected around the world.

The success of immunization

Unlike traditional vaccines that use weakened viruses or pieces of virus proteins, the messenger RNA technique uses molecules that tell cells which proteins to make.

That is, in cells, the genetic information encoded in DNA is transferred to messenger RNA, which is used as a template for the production of proteins.

This process simulates an infection and this trains the immune system for when it faces a real virus.

This idea was first demonstrated in 1990, but it was not until mid-2000 when Weissman and Karikó developed a way to control the inflammatory response that animals suffered in experiments.

This was a paradigm shift in our understanding of how cells recognize and respond to different forms of mRNA.

Karikó and Weissman immediately understood that their discovery had profound importance for the use of mRNA as therapy.

This discovery opened the way to the development of safe vaccines for humans.

This year's winners will receive 11 million crowns (the equivalent of one million dollars), the largest reward in the history of the award.

Last month, the Nobel Foundation announced that it was increasing the amount of the prize thanks to an improved financial situation.

The Nobel season will continue today with the Physics award and tomorrow with the Chemistry award.

Drew Weissman

  • American immunologist from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • He is a professor of medicine and works on the application of messenger RNA.

Katalin Kariko

  • Hungarian-American doctor in biochemistry.
  • For almost 40 years, he has studied mRNA. With her, 13 women have won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Persistent and secure knowledge

In 1990, Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó remained faithful to her goal of making mRNA a therapeutic reality, despite having no one to finance her research.

Yesterday, the then professor at the University of Pennsylvania became the thirteenth woman to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

The scientist failed to obtain funding for her studies and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was aiming to obtain a professorship, assigned her to minor positions, when she needed the job to maintain her visa.

Karikó said her first thought was for her mother, who used to listen to the winner's announcement in the hope that her daughter would be named.

“I listened to it every year. Unfortunately five years ago she died. Maybe she hears us from heaven,” she stated yesterday.

“He told me: let's see if they give you the prize. I responded: Mom, they don't even give me a scholarship,” recalled the specialist, who has lived in the United States since 1985.


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