Researchers behind COVID-19 vaccine recognized with the Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2023 was jointly awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman “for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19”.  While working together at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), they discovered a chemical tweak to messenger RNA. The mRNA jabs have been administered billions of times globally in the last three years.

Despite realising the potential of mRNA in the early 90s, their road to global recognition was anything but rosy.  The discipline was considered a scientific backwater by the community.  In 1995, Karikó was even demoted by UPenn as she could not get financial grants to continue her research. In 2013, she was forced to resign and kicked out of the university. Kariko had been battling cancer during her ordeal. Meanwhile, their 2005 paper was summarily rejected by journals like Nature and Science and was accepted by a niche publication called Immunity.

As of October 2023, Karikó is a professor at the University of Szeged in her native Hungary while Weissman is a professor in vaccine research at UPenn.

KnowALLedge Plus:

>The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and comes with 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million) to share between the recipients.

>The prizes will be presented by the King of Sweden at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the death anniversary of Alfred Nobel, followed by a banquet at the city hall.

>The daughter of a butcher, Katalin Karikó grew up in a village in Hungary, in a house without running water or a refrigerator. She and her husband sold their Soviet-era Lada car, sewed some cash and her research materials into their daughter’s teddy bear and went to the U.S. on a one-way ticket.

>Katalin Karikó met Drew Weissman over a copy machine at UPenn. They initially teamed up to develop a more effective HIV vaccine which Weissman was desperately searching for.

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