Hungarian American (US) neuroscientist and biochemist Katalin Karikó, a member of the Leopoldina, is being honoured with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Karikó receives the award together with the US American immunologist Drew Weissman for their joint basic research, which provided the foundation for today's mRNA technology and thus enabled the development of vaccines against COVID-19. Karikó and Weissman were looking for ways to stop the inflammatory processes triggered by synthetic mRNA, which stood in the way of a medical application of mRNA technology for a long time.
The President of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Gerald Haug, congratulates Katalin Karikó on this prestigious award: "We are particularly pleased that a member of the Leopoldina has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year for her pioneering research. This honour recognizes groundbreaking findings in the field of synthetically produced mRNA for vaccine development.”
In her research on the inflammatory processes triggered by synthetic mRNA, Katalin Karikó observed that the inflammatory reaction could be avoided if pseudouridine, with its different spatial arrangement, was incorporated into the mRNA instead of the nucleoside building block uridine. Embedded in nanolipid particles, an mRNA modified in this manner forms the basis for the mRNA vaccines used worldwide since the end of 2020, which have meanwhile immunised millions of people against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With this research, Katalin Karikó has laid the foundation for a new technology.
Karikó has been a professor at the University of Szeged in Hungary since 2021 and an adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. The scientist has received several awards for her scientific achievements, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science from the Franklin Institute in 2022 and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize from the Paul Ehrlich Foundation. In 2021, she was honoured with the German Future Prize together with Ugur Sahin, Özlem Türeci and Christoph Huber. Karikó has been a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2022.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is currently endowed with a total of eleven million Swedish kronor (equivalent to around 952,000 euros). All Nobel Prizes are traditionally bestowed on the laureates on 10 December, the anniversary of founder Alfred Nobel’s death.
The Leopoldina has around 1,700 members, with a current 37 Nobel laureates among them.