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Nobel awards joint prize for Medicine in discovery that led to mRNA vaccine

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    Nat Quinn

    The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet on Monday awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, jointly to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman.

    The award is for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19

    The discoveries by the two Nobel Laureates were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020.

    According to a statement issued by the Institute, the groundbreaking findings fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system.

    “The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times” read the statement.

    Vaccines before the pandemic

    Vaccination stimulates the formation of an immune response to a particular pathogen.

    This gives the body a head start in the fight against disease in the event of a later exposure.

    Vaccines based on killed or weakened viruses have long been available, exemplified by the vaccines against polio, measles, and yellow fever. In 1951, Max Theiler was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing the yellow fever vaccine.

    Thanks to the progress in molecular biology in recent decades, vaccines based on individual viral components, rather than whole viruses, have been developed.

    Parts of the viral genetic code, usually encoding proteins found on the virus surface, are used to make proteins that stimulate the formation of virus-blocking antibodies.

    Examples are the vaccines against the hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus.

    Alternatively, parts of the viral genetic code can be moved to a harmless carrier virus, a “vector.”

    This method is used in vaccines against the Ebola virus.

    When vector vaccines are injected, the selected viral protein is produced in our cells, stimulating an immune response against the targeted virus.

    Producing whole virus-, protein- and vector-based vaccines requires large-scale cell culture.

    This resource-intensive process limits the possibilities for rapid vaccine production in response to outbreaks and pandemics.

    Therefore, researchers have long attempted to develop vaccine technologies independent of cell culture, but this proved challenging.


    SOURCE:Nobel awards joint prize for Medicine in discovery that led to mRNA vaccine (algoafm.co.za)

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