The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded on Monday to Kathleen Carrico and Drew Weissman, who discovered the chemical changes in messenger RNA that underlie vaccines against Covid-19.
Dr. Carrico and Dr. Weissman, who met through a copy machine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1998, revolutionized vaccine technology. Seven years later, they made a surprising discovery about messenger RNA, also known as mRNA, which gives cells the instructions to make proteins.
When the mRNA was introduced to the cells, the molecule was so delicate that the cells immediately destroyed it. But the scientists found that they could avoid that outcome by slightly modifying the mRNA. When they add the altered mRNA to the cells, it briefly prompts the cells to make whatever protein they choose.
Until then, commercial vaccines delivered modified viruses or their fragments into the body to train the immune system to attack invading microbes. An mRNA vaccine would instead carry instructions — encoded in mRNA — that would allow the body’s cells to secrete their own viral proteins.
This approach, Dr. Wiseman and Dr. Carrico, they thought, could mimic a real infection and trigger a stronger immune response than traditional vaccines.
At the time, scientists were not very interested in taking a new approach to vaccination. Their paper, published in 2005, was summarily rejected by the journals Nature and Science, Dr. Wiseman said. There was study It was eventually accepted by a major publication called Immunity.
But eventually, two biotech companies noticed the work: Moderna in the US and BioNtech in Germany. Companies have studied the use of mRNA vaccines for flu, cytomegalovirus and other diseases, but none have made it out of clinical trials for years.
Then the coronavirus emerged. Amazingly effective vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Dr. Karikó and Dr. Using the modifications discovered by Weissman.
This is the first of six Nobel Prizes to be awarded this year. Each award recognizes outstanding contributions by an individual or organization in a specific field: physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry, economic science, literature, and peace work.
When will other Nobel Prizes be announced?
The Nobel Prize in Physics will be awarded on Tuesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Last year, John Glaser, Alain Aspecht and Anton Jeilinger won for their independent works exploring quantum difference.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be awarded on Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Last year, Caroline R. Berdozzi, Morton Meldel and K. Barry Sharpless shared prizes for his work on click chemistry.
The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on Thursday. Last year, Annie Erneaux won the prize for her work dissecting with clinical precision the most humiliating, personal and scandalous moments of her past.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo on Friday. Last year, the prize was shared by the Russian organization Memorial; Center for Civil Rights in Ukraine; and Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarusian activist.
Next week, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences will be awarded on Monday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Last year, Ben S. Bernanke, Douglas W. Diamond and Philip H. Dibwick shares the prize for work that has helped change how the world understands the relationship between banks and financial crises.
All prize announcements will be there Broadcast live by the Nobel Prize Organization.
Emma Bubola contributed reporting.