Can mRNA vaccines make us stronger than humans?
Scientists now believe that they may be the basis for solving many health problems.
Until recently most people had never even heard of mRNA vaccines. Scientists now believe that they may be the basis for solving many health problems.
About a year ago, Anna Blakney was working in a completely invisible field of science, in a laboratory in London. Few people outside of his scientific field had heard of mRNA vaccines. Because they did not exist. Attendance at the annual conference talk he gave in 2019 can be counted in the tens, not hundreds. Today, he is much needed: Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and science communicator with 253,000 followers and loved by 3.7 million people on TikTok. He was, he admits, in the right place at the right time to drive the once-in-a-lifetime wave of scientific progress. He named this new era: "RNAissance".
Because of the Covid-19 epidemic, many people have now heard - and received - the mRNA vaccine, from companies like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. But even when Blakney began his Ph.D. at Imperial London College in 2016, "many people were skeptical if it would work". Now, "the whole mRNA field is just exploding. It's a change in therapy, he says.
It is a revolution so big that it raises some big, exciting questions: can mRNA vaccines cure cancer, HIV, tropical diseases, and even give us a unique immune system?
Messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA for short, is a single-celled molecule that carries specific genetic code from DNA to a protein-producing machine. Without mRNA, your genetic code would not work, proteins would not form, and your body would not function. If DNA is a bank card, then mRNA is a card reader.
Once the virus is inside our cells, it releases its RNA and tricks our kidnapped cells into vomiting copies of the virus - through viral proteins - which endanger our immune system. Traditional vaccines work by injecting undigested viral proteins called antigens, which stimulate the body's immune system to recognize the virus when it reappears.
The idea of mRNA vaccines is that there is no need to inject antigens themselves. Instead, these vaccines use a gene sequence or "code" of antigen translated into mRNA. It is the spirit of the real thing, fooling the body into forming real antibodies. The artificial MRNA itself then disappears, being destroyed by the body's natural defenses including the enzymes that break it down, leaving us with only antibodies.
Therefore, it is safer to produce, faster and cheaper, compared to traditional vaccines. You no longer need large biological laboratories that breed dangerous viruses within millions of chicken eggs. Instead, only one laboratory can process antigen proteins and send emails worldwide. With that information the laboratory could produce "one million mRNA doses in one 100ml test tube," says Blakney.
We have now seen the process implemented in real-time. On January 10, 2020, Zhang Yongzhen, a professor of zoonoses at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, developed the Covid-19 genome and published it the next day. Covid-19 was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be catastrophic on March 11. On March 16, using the Zhang sequel, the first mRNA vaccine began its first phase clinical trial.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on December 11, 2020, setting a record that is not only the first mRNA vaccine approved for humans but also as the first vaccine to have a 95% effectiveness rate in clinical trials. Approval of the Moderna mRNA vaccine followed around 18 December. The original record for the "fastest vaccine", the vaccine, took four years. The Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines lasted only 11 months.
The theory of mRNA vaccine was developed by University of Pennsylvania scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, both of whom received the 2021 Lasker Award, the largest American medical research award. Even in 2019, however, the main mRNA vaccines were believed to be at least five years away. The epidemic opened the door for medicine for half a decade.
Kathryn Whitehead, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and medical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and a major ally of Weissman and Karikó admits, "there were not many people in the world of mRNA treatment who would consider 95% success rates in the state. this emergency ".
But now, the possibilities seem endless. Or, as Blakney puts it: "Now it's like, okay, so it has been processed with viral glycoprotein, what other vaccines can we make with it? And what can we do more than that?"
At the University of Rochester, Dragony Fu, an associate professor in, department of biology, received immediate funding for his laboratory from the National Science Foundation to study RNA proteins. If we are currently witnessing the 1.0 mRNA vaccine for Covid-19, then 2.0 will address two more types of the disease, says Fu: "one is a virus, like Sars, but you can apply this technology to other foreign invaders such as HIV. Already Before Covid, companies were in the process of developing an mRNA vaccine against HIV. " He also mentions Zika parasites, herpes, and malaria in the insect camp.
"Another category is autoimmune diseases," he says. "That's surprising because it's closer to the strict definition of vaccines." Fu says the future may involve "treatment" of mRNA, for example reducing inflammation. "In theory, that opens up a whole lot of potential," he says.
Yizhou Dong, an associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at Ohio State University, deals with the small amounts of fat, or lipids, needed to store mRNA and deliver it to cells safely without being damaged immediately by our bodies. Lipids have been described as an "unknown hero" - without lipid delivery being completed and approved by 2018, there would be no Covid-19 mRNA vaccine by 2020.
Before Covid-19, numerous research studies were looking at the broader use of combining this new method of lipid delivery with mRNA Dong says, in addition to genetic disorders, cancer prevention, infectious diseases, and bacterial infections. "As long as you have antigen and can synthesize protein, theoretically it should work".
Thanks to the combined successes in lipid delivery and mRNA technology, vaccines, and treatments in development include Translate Bio's mRNA's treatment for cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis; Gritstone Oncology and Gilead Sciences' mRNA HIV vaccine; Arcturus Therapeutics treatment for cystic fibrosis and heart disease; and the German company Ethris, along with AstraZeneca, are developing mRNA treatment for acute lung diseases and asthma.
Solutions for tropical diseases are also being explored. Moderna is approaching the second phase (out of three) in clinical trials of mRNA vaccine for Zika and Chikungunya. Both are described as "neglected", so-called because they affect the world's poorest people and do not receive adequate research and funding. The speed and cost of mRNA vaccines can change that concept and signal the end of neglected tropical diseases.
Perhaps the first new mRNA vaccine to hit our shelves, however, will be for the most well-known enemy - the flu. Influenza viruses are responsible for approximately 290,000-650,000 deaths annually worldwide. "We are very likely to see mRNA vaccines against the flu shortly," Whitehead says. "These mRNA vaccines have been developed for many years, and clinical trials have so far been encouraging. There are currently five clinical trials for influenza A, including one in the second phase."
This can be timely. Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in the UK who also consults with the WHO, has warned that some countries could be affected by the flu epidemic which could cause more deaths than Covid-19.
Several pharmaceutical companies are also seeking vaccines and treatment for mRNA cancer. "Cancer cells will often have certain facial features that other cells in your body do not have," says Blakney. "You can train your immune system to recognize and kill those cells, just as you can train your immune system to recognize and kill viruses: it's the same idea, you discover what proteins are on the surface of your tumor cells and use them as a vaccine." The idea of a specific drug for a patient, has been an interesting prospect for many years - this could be another door open by mRNA, according to Blakney. Theoretically, "it removes your swelling, it follows ... look at what's on it, then they make you a specific vaccine".
Movie of the day
song of the day
Recipe of the day
food of the day
Thanks for reading Guǐ xìn! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.