This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has gone to two researchers whose pioneering work relied on mice to develop messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for Covid-19.
As a form of treatment against viruses, Katalin Karikó, at the University of Szeged, Hungary, and Drew Weissman, at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, USA, focused on delivering lab-made mRNA molecules safely and effectively into the body to trigger an immune response.
Using cells from cows, mice, rats and humans, Karikó and Weissman identified that mRNA needed to be chemically modified in order to avoid rejection by the body - a finding that they investigated and confirmed in mice.
This meant that mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 could be developed at an unprecedented rate, during ‘one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times’, said the Nobel Assembly.
Their research also has the potential to be used to treat other conditions such as sickle cell disease. Read more about mRNA vaccines.
Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the US President, told The Washington Post: “Every once in a while, you get a discovery that is transformative in that it’s not only for a specific discovery itself, but it essentially impacts multiple areas of science — and that’s what mRNA technology is.”
Throughout the history of the Nobels, 88% of the Medicine or Physiology prizes have involved the use of animals. Emil von Behring, the very first laureate in 1901, used animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits and rats to develop serum therapies against the bacterial infection diphtheria, while the 2020 prize, for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, involved mice and non-human primates.