Messenger RNA

Katalin Karikó grew up in Hungary. Her passion for service led to her receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Szeged. When her research funding in Hungary disappeared, she and her family came to America. She was able to get a research appointment at Temple University.

She then moved to the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interest was the use of messenger RNA (mRNA) to fight disease. mRNA is used to give cells the ability to make proteins. Her research was considered to be unproven and too risky. She was not able to get research grants and scientific journals rejected her work since the peer review system in place tends to be adverse to challenges to current thinking.

Karikó was demoted in her position at the University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, she was diagnosed with cancer. She never gave up. After several years of limited success, Karikó and a colleague discovered a way for a synthetic version of RNA to bypass the body’s immune system. This was a major breakthrough.

The breakthrough caught the attention of a cell biologist who helped start up a company called Moderna and another company BioNTech, a future partner of Pfizer. Karikó’s work became the basis of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The work of Karikó is now being explored as a potential for vaccines for HIV, malaria, and other emerging versions of influenza. Her work has already shown promise in increasing the effectiveness of cancer vaccines.

Karikó’s reward for her groundbreaking achievement is a sense of redemption. She treated herself to her favorite candy – a bag of Goobers.

Hidden heroes rarely have it easy. Their work is often doubted. This is especially true when they don’t have the same “pedigree” of those who have an influence on what is deemed to be worthy of support. Hidden heroes have a faith in themselves that few others have. They truly believe in their ideas and refuse to give up.

Just imagine where the world would be if Katalin Karikó gave up on herself.  Why are we so reluctant to accept the possibility of new approaches? Just imagine what it will take to break the stranglehold that the establishment has on what ideas are worth exploring.

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“Rejection – and the fear of rejection – is the biggest impediment we face to choosing ourselves.”- James Altucher (Founder of over 20 companies, stand-up comic, and National Chaos Master)           

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