At least one positive thing came out of the coronavirus pandemic and that was RNA vaccines. Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman were two of the researchers that co-created the mRNA vaccines that we now use. This didn’t happen overnight either. They had both been working on mRNA technology for over a decade and good thing too! In this newsletter, we’ll take a look at the difference between traditional vaccines and mRNA vaccines.
Most vaccines are made from dead or weakened viruses, and some contain viral particles. It makes sense that if the virus causes an immune response, injecting someone with ones that won’t cause disease can still create immunity. The problem is that growing and disabling viruses or purifying their antigenic proteins takes time. You need the right kind of cells and environments to grow the virus in… and while they’re not alive, you can think of growing viruses like growing crop plants. To get the most yield, you need ideal conditions when it comes to weather, soil quality, and amount of water.
New mRNA Vaccines
All Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman needed to make the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine was the genetic sequence of the coronavirus spike protein. Instead of spending months or years trying to grow the virus and figuring out how to purify it, the mRNA vaccine only required a short sequence of RNA that could be made quickly. Within a day of getting the viral sequence, they made the RNA.
Once this piece of viral genetic material is injected inside an animal, it is taken up by the cells and immediately sent to the ribosomes to pump out thousands of copies of the spike protein. No need to worry about dealing with live viruses, no need to purify anything. The host’s body does all the protein-making! This process also harnesses our immune system’s natural ability to recognize cells that are pumping out foreign proteins (we’ll talk about major histocompatibility complexes later…).
Vaccinated and Immune
If you loved (and appreciated) this story about the magic of RNA, then we have the perfect gift for you: our RNA necklace. It’s made to look just like a piece of mRNA. Purchase it for yourself or for a friend. It also makes a great present for Dr. Kariko*, mRNA researchers, COVID-19 vaccine developers, and vaccinated people.
*We’re not quite sure if necklaces are Dr. Weissman’s style, but if you find out that it is, please let us know.
written by Science with Evie