The creators of the ground-breaking RNA technique used to combat Covid-19, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, have been given the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
The Nobel Assembly has cited Karikó, a 68-year-old Hungarian scientist, and Weissman, a 64-year-old American researcher, as the brains behind a ground-breaking development that has fought "one of the worst threats to human health in modern times." Their contribution to medicine through RNA research led to the development of vaccinations that were crucial to the global response to the epidemic. As the Assembly points out, this novel approach has not only prevented millions of deaths but helped the world come out of lockdowns.
The path Katalin Karikó took to earn this prestigious honour has been nothing short of inspirational. She struggled with the difficulties of growing up in abject poverty. She was born in Hungary in 1955. She made a daring escape across the Iron Curtain in 1985 as she was so dedicated to her study and wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States. Temple University was one of the first universities where she worked as a Post-doctoral researcher, from 1985 to 1988, when she came to the USA.
Even though her early RNA research in the United States was met with scepticism and little financial support, a meeting with Weissman in 1990 at the University of Pennsylvania proved to be a pivotal moment for Karikó. Their collaborative research advanced to new heights after Weissman, who was at the time working on an AIDS vaccine, shared a concept that would make RNA more stable.
Weissman is currently heavily involved in vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania, and Karikó splits her time between the same school and the Hungarian University of Szeged as a professor.
The mRNA vaccines created by Karikó and Weissman stand out for their innovative approach. They were able to successfully educate the human immune system to detect and neutralise the actual virus by using the RNA sequence that corresponds to a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the spike protein. Though conceptually investigated since the 1980s, the Covid-19 pandemic saw the practical and widespread deployment of this method, demonstrating its effectiveness.
The Nobel award does more than just recognize the outstanding contribution of Karikó and Weissman to Covid vaccine research. It underlines the potential of mRNA technology itself, which is now being considered for diverse diseases, ranging from influenza and AIDS to even cancer.
"Thanks to Katalin Karikó's scientific research on the use of mRNA, millions of lives could be saved," comments Professor Antonio Giordano, Director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, during the Interview for Fortune Italia on this news, "This highlights the importance of scientific research for progress and human survival. The pandemic certainly has highlighted the importance of DNA and RNA studies and that we don't need a global emergency to realize that research needs support and recognition."
Every year, the Nobel prize serves as a reminder of the effort and devotion of scientists all over the world. We celebrate the unwavering spirit of researchers like Karikó and Weissman who, through their unrelenting pursuit of knowledge, and strong will power to make the world a better place, we anticipate the upcoming announcement of Nobel winners in other categories as well, such as physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.