In 1997, while photocopying medical journal articles at the office Xerox machine, Dr. Katalin Karikó and Dr. Drew Weissman started discussing their work in biochemistry and immunology respectively. The conversations resulted in a collaboration that would, in 2020, become the foundation for one of the most important technologies of the 21st century: The mRNA vaccine.
To celebrate their discovery of “a new therapeutic technology based on the modification of messenger RNA,” the Lasker Foundation honored Karikó and Weissman with the 2021 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.
“When Covid-19 struck, their technology was ready and mRNA vaccines were rolled out in record time, offering hope to a world in shock. Thanks to Karikó’s and Weissman’s investigative work it seems we are now one step closer to The mRNA Revolution.”
The Lasker Foundation’s mission is “to improve health by accelerating support for medical research through recognition of research excellence, advocacy, and education.” Some background from their site:
“In the early 1960s, messenger RNA (mRNA) sprang into the spotlight as the agent that encodes protein, and the possibility of using this nucleic acid for medical purposes began to tickle scientists’ imaginations. mRNA could, in principle, provide a means to turn a person’s cells into factories for any desired protein. Such methodology might replenish essential substances that are in short supply or introduce microbial components as a vaccine.”
“Furthermore, it offered numerous advantages over DNA-based strategies. Unlike DNA, mRNA would not threaten the recipient cell’s genomic integrity because it cannot integrate into the chromosome and interrupt resident genes or wreak other mutational havoc. As an undergraduate in the mid 1970s, Karikó found the promise of mRNA-directed protein replacement irresistible. Since then, she has devoured information and mastered techniques with that enterprise in mind.”
Read more about their work in The New York Times: Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus, in which Dr. Weissman shares, “My dream was always that we develop something in the lab that helps people. I’ve satisfied my life’s dream.”
And from the University of California’s Fig. 1 series: How does the Covid vaccine work and why is it safe?