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Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023

Context:

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose work enabled the development of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. mRNA Vaccines and Their Significance During Covid-19
  2. Karikó and Weissman’s Contribution
  3. Background on Karikó and Weissman

mRNA Vaccines and Their Significance During Covid-19

  • Traditionally, vaccines have involved introducing dead or weakened viruses into the body to trigger an immune response. This process prepares the immune system to fight the actual virus when exposed to it. Later, vaccines started using a part of the viral genetic code instead of the whole virus.
  • However, large-scale development of traditional vaccines requires cell culture and takes time. During the Covid-19 pandemic, speed was crucial in finding a weapon against the fast-spreading virus. This is where mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic Acid) technology played a pivotal role.
  • mRNA vaccines use genetically engineered mRNA to instruct cells to produce the protein needed to fight a specific virus, rather than introducing the virus itself.
  • Traditional vaccines can take longer to develop because they rely on growing cells and producing inactivated viruses.
  • mRNA technology, known since the 1980s, had not been perfected at a scale suitable for vaccine production until recently.

Karikó and Weissman’s Contribution

  • Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman made significant contributions to the development of mRNA vaccines:
  • They recognized that lab-grown genetically engineered mRNA was seen as foreign by the body’s dendritic cells, leading to an unwanted inflammatory response.
  • To address this, they introduced chemical modifications to the mRNA bases to mimic the altered bases found in RNA from mammalian cells. This greatly reduced the inflammatory response.
  • Their findings, published in 2005, paved the way for mRNA vaccine development.
  • Moderna and Pfizer used this technology to develop Covid-19 vaccines.

Background on Karikó and Weissman

  • Katalin Karikó is from Szolnok, Hungary. She received her PhD from Szeged University and later worked at the University of Pennsylvania. She then became a vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals and is currently a professor at Szeged University.
  • Drew Weissman, born in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, earned MD and PhD degrees from Boston University. He established his research group at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.

-Source: Indian Express


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