The Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to two scientists for their research that led to the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. Katalin Kariko from Hungary and Drew Weissman from the United States were honored with this prestigious accolade.
The panel that awarded the prize stated that through their groundbreaking findings, Kariko and Weissman fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system. Their contributions played a crucial role in the rapid development of vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic, which posed one of the greatest threats to human health.
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines utilize messenger RNA (mRNA) to send genetic instructions to the body’s cells, enabling them to recognize and destroy the spike protein of the coronavirus. By triggering an immune response to this spike protein, the body becomes capable of fighting off the virus without ever being exposed to it.
Kariko is a professor at Sagan’s University in Hungary and also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She previously held the position of senior vice president and head of RNA protein replacement at BioNTech until 2022. Weissman conducted his award-winning research alongside Kariko at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Assembly, announced the prize and revealed that both scientists were overwhelmed by the news when contacted. The announcement was accompanied by an image of the winners during a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.
Rickard Sandberg, a member of the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute, remarked that this year’s Nobel Prize acknowledges the scientists’ discovery in basic science, which revolutionized our understanding of mRNA’s interaction with the immune system. Sandberg emphasized the significant impact their research had on society during the recent pandemic. He highlighted that their work saved millions of lives, prevented severe COVID-19 cases, reduced the overall disease burden, and allowed societies to reopen.
Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, hailed the mRNA vaccines as a game changer in combating the coronavirus pandemic. He credited the vaccines with saving millions of lives and stated that without mRNA technology, the impact of COVID-19 would have been much worse. Hunter added that vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines, played a pivotal role in slowing down the spread of the virus.
The announcement in Stockholm marks the beginning of this year’s Nobel Prize awards, with the remaining five prizes set to be unveiled in the coming days. The Nobel Prizes, established in 1901, were created by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish dynamite inventor and wealthy businessman. They are awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics. Each prize carries a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor (£820,000), funded by Nobel’s bequest upon his death in 1896.
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