Woman in Stem Spotlight: 2023 Nobel Prize Winner Katalin Karikó
Last month, Hungarian-American biochemist Katalin Karikó won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with her work partner, Drew Weissman. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts in speeding up the process of developing the COVID-19 vaccine with the help of mRNA-based vaccines that allowed “potent Covid vaccines to be made in less than a year,” according to the New York Times.
Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman have been researching mRNA for almost twenty years. In 2005 they published findings stating that “mRNA could be altered and delivered effectively into the body to activate the body’s protective immune system.” This discovery became instrumental after the global pandemic hit, as governments and scientists rushed to get out an effective vaccine as quickly as possible. The mRNA vaccines allow for a very strong immune response, “including high levels of antibodies that attack a specific infectious disease that has not previously been encountered,” according to a Penn Today article. MRNA vaccines are unique in the sense that no virus is injected to the vaccine recipient at any time.
Both Pfizer and Moderna used Dr. Karikó and Dr. Weissman’s mRNA discoveries to create mRNA-based vaccines. In the US alone, “mRNA vaccines make up more than 655 million total doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that have been administered” since December 2020, according to the same Penn Today article. Their findings have forever changed the way in which vaccines work, and may even help protect people against other deadly diseases in the future, including cancer. “Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman are brilliant researchers who represent the epitome of scientific inspiration and determination,” said Penn President Liz Magill.
Dr. Karikó is only the 13th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, out of 227 total laureates. Her incredible discoveries have not only changed the world in terms of medicine and science, but have also paved the way for more women to continue to pursue careers in scientific research and medicine.