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Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2023

Why is it in the news?

  • The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their groundbreaking discoveries related to mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic Acid) and its interaction with the immune system.
  • Their work significantly contributed to the rapid development of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines.

More about the news

Traditional Vaccines vs mRNA Vaccine:

  • Traditional vaccines historically used weakened or inactivated viruses to trigger an immune response in the body.
  • mRNA vaccines represent a new approach by using messenger RNA to instruct cells to produce specific proteins needed to fight a particular virus.

Significance of mRNA Technology during COVID-19:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the urgent development of vaccines to combat the fast-spreading virus.
  • mRNA technology, although known since the 1980s, had not been perfected for large-scale vaccine production.
  • This technology allows for a quicker response to emerging threats without the need for traditional cell culture methods.

 Kariko and Weissman’s Contributions:

  • Kariko and Weissman recognized that lab-grown genetically engineered mRNA was recognized by the body’s dendritic cells as foreign, leading to an inflammatory response.
  • They experimented with chemical alterations in the mRNA bases and found that base modifications reduced the inflammatory response.
  • Their work, published in 2005 and expanded upon in subsequent years, laid the foundation for mRNA vaccine development.

 Impact on COVID-19 Vaccines:

  • The findings of Kariko and Weissman were crucial in the development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Vaccines developed by companies like Moderna and Pfizer utilized this mRNA technology to create effective COVID-19 vaccines.
About mRNA
  • mRNA stands for messenger RNA, a type of nucleic acid carrying genetic information.
  • mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of genetic material that codes for a viral protein, typically the spike protein found on the virus’s membrane.
  • Unlike traditional vaccines that use weakened or inactivated viruses, mRNA vaccines do not expose individuals to the actual virus.
  • mRNA vaccines offer strong safety advantages due to their minimal genetic construct, containing only the elements required for protein expression.
  • mRNA vaccines require protection from degradation, so they are enclosed in lipid (fat) molecules to maintain stability.
  • Many COVID-19 vaccine makers, including Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, used the spike protein’s genetic code as part of their vaccines.
  • These vaccines need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, making their distribution and storage logistics challenging.
  • The advantage of mRNA and DNA vaccines is their flexibility, allowing for rapid updates to target emerging variants and various diseases.
  • mRNA vaccines have shown remarkable success in generating immune responses and have prompted researchers worldwide to explore their potential for other diseases.
  • mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Moderna, Pfizer, and Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, provide instructions for the body to produce spike proteins, which the immune system recognizes and prepares to defend against.

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