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Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Pioneers of mRNA Technology in COVID-19 Vaccines Development

Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their groundbreaking work in messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which laid the foundation for the development of revolutionary Covid-19 vaccines. The Nobel committee in Stockholm chose to honour the pair this year, deviating from its tradition of recognizing research conducted decades ago. While the scientific breakthrough dates back to 2005, it was the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that marked the first practical use of mRNA technology against Covid-19.

Kariko, hailing from Hungary, and Weissman from the United States, who have long been collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania, have received numerous accolades for their research, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021, often seen as a precursor to the Nobel Prize. Unlike conventional vaccines that employ weakened viruses or key viral protein fragments, mRNA vaccines provide genetic instructions to cells, instructing them to produce specific proteins, thereby simulating an infection and training the immune system to respond effectively.

Although the concept of mRNA vaccines was initially demonstrated in 1990, it was only in the mid-2000s that Weissman and Kariko developed a technique to mitigate the dangerous inflammatory responses observed in animals exposed to these genetic molecules. This breakthrough paved the way for the development of safe human vaccines. Today, their mRNA technology is also being applied to create treatments for various diseases, including cancer, influenza, and heart failure.

Kariko and Weissman will be awarded the Nobel Prize, which includes a diploma, a gold medal, and a $1 million prize, during a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10th, coinciding with the anniversary of scientist Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896. Alfred Nobel established these prestigious awards in his last will and testament to honour those who have made significant contributions to humanity.

The Nobel season continues with the announcement of the Physics Prize on Tuesday and the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday. Subsequently, the Literature Prize will be revealed on Thursday, followed by the Peace Prize on Friday, and the Economics Prize on Monday, October 9th.

The Nobel Prizes, first introduced in 1901, were established by Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions for the betterment of humanity. Over the years, the Nobel committees have faced criticism for a lack of diversity in gender and geographical representation among laureates. Efforts are being made to address these concerns, with a focus on achieving greater gender and geographic diversity.

As for the Peace Prize, potential winners are being considered against the backdrop of ongoing global conflicts. Some suggest Iranian women who have been protesting against strict dress codes following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody could be considered. Others propose organizations documenting war crimes in Ukraine or the International Criminal Court, which may play a crucial role in future conflict resolution.

For the Physics Prize, contenders include discoveries related to twisted graphene or the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, as well as innovations in high-density data storage within the field of spintronics.

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