In the realm of science, it may take decades to fully understand the importance and impact of scientific discoveries. It’s often the unsung heroes, who maintain unwavering dedication to their research even in the face of a community that may refuse to acknowledge their findings, that end up changing the world. One such hero is Prof. Katalin Kariko, whose work saved millions of lives and is arguably one of the most significant scientific discoveries of this century. Strap in for a thrilling ride through the wonderland of RNA and discover why Katalin Kariko is the unsung superstar of molecular biology!
The Road Less Traveled
Kariko’s journey was no walk in the park. Her pioneering work began at the University of Szeged, Hungary, and eventually took her to the University of Pennsylvania, to study mRNA. Over the years, numerous researchers have demonstrated that injecting mRNA into the body is toxic and kills the cells at the injected area. This occurs because the body’s innate immune system, responsible for detecting viruses, recognizes the mRNA as a threat. Prof. Kariko, in collaboration with Prof. Drew Weissman, a renowned authority in the field of vaccination, embarked on research endeavors to unravel the underlying causes of this phenomenon. Their investigation revealed that one of the four bases of the RNA, known as uridine, is the part recognized by the immune system. By modifying it to pseudouridine, they can introduce mRNA without triggering toxicity. They coined this “modified mRNA,” and published their findings in the scientific journal Molecular Therapy in 2008.
For over a decade, the scientific community had been skeptical about this work, calling it esoteric, unnecessary, and expensive. No one wanted to fund Prof. Kariko’s research and only a small number of labs used this method. Today, this modification is used by the two FDA-approved mRNA Covid vaccines, while all other mRNA vaccines without this modification failed.
The RNA Revolution
Prof. Kariko’s research is shaping a world where diseases like cancer, cystic fibrosis, and COVID-19 can be treated effectively. Her groundbreaking work on mRNA has laid the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccines we know today, saving millions of lives. Katalin Kariko is the scientist behind the scenes, bringing the world one step closer to conquering this pandemic and countless other diseases.