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Two Penn professors win 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine for mRNA research that led to COVID-19 vaccines

By: - October 2, 2023 9:10 am

Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine (Photo via University of Pennsylvania)

Two professors at the University of Pennsylvania were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, for their research that led to the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. 

Katalin Karikó is an adjunct professor of neurosurgery and Drew Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research, both at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. After researching mRNA as a potential therapeutic, the pair published their discovery in 2005, detailing how mRNA could be used in vaccines to attack a specific infectious disease not previously encountered, according to a release from Penn. 

The duo’s discoveries “were critical for developing effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 during the pandemic that began in early 2020,” the Nobel Prize committee said in a press release. “Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”

Karikó was born in Szolnok, Hungary, and received her PhD from Szeged’s University in 1982, performing postdoctoral research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Szeged until 1985. She later conducted postdoctoral research at Temple University in Philadelphia, and the University of Health Science in Bethesda, Maryland. Since 2021, she has been a Professor at Szeged University and an Adjunct Professor at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Drew Weissman was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, and received MD and PhD degrees from Boston University. He did his clinical training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School and postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health. In 1997, Weissman established his research group at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The phrase Nobel Prize elicits images of individuals whose work has, without exaggeration, changed the world,”  J. Larry Jameson, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, said in a statement. “During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, vaccine developers relied upon the discoveries by Dr. Weissman and Dr. Karikó, which saved innumerable lives and paved a path out of the pandemic. Now, the same approach is being tested for other diseases and conditions. More than 15 years after their visionary laboratory partnership, Kati and Drew have made an everlasting imprint on medicine.”

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