The potential of mRNA vaccines

The potential of mRNA vaccines

Posted on Feb 24, 2021

A recent article* about mRNA vaccines captured my attention. It made we realise that if COVID can propel us forward a decade in the treatment and potential cure for certain chronic conditions, we might look back and see COVID as a blessing rather than a curse, for some at least.

The article is worth a read in full, but these were my take-aways;

  1. Viruses contain a core of genes made of DNA or RNA wrapped in a coat of proteins. To make the coat of protein, the DNA or RNA genes of the virus make messenger RNA (mRNA); the mRNA then makes the proteins.
  2. Making vaccines the traditional way using grown then weakened virus, or a particular piece of the protein coat, takes a lot of time. Making mRNA is a lot easier, as long as you know its structure. So, 30 years ago, a few scientists wondered if by injecting mRNA into someone, you could stimulate an immune response.
  3. It took 30 years to perfect the technique, but now mRNA vaccines can actually generate a stronger type of immunity than that produced using traditional vaccine methods. That’s why the most vulnerable members of our community are about to get the Pfizer (mRNA) vaccine.
  4. Companies like Pfizer (working with BioNTech) and Moderna have built platforms that, theoretically, could now be used to create a vaccine for any infectious disease simply by inserting the right mRNA sequence for that disease. Their focus might be COVID now, but the techniques are generally applicable.
  5. mRNA vaccines are now being tested for other infectious agents, such as Ebola, Zika virus, and influenza. Cancer cells make proteins that also can be targeted by mRNA vaccines; recent progress was reported with melanoma. And mRNA technology might also be helpful in treating other diseases like cystic fibrosis.

Science is a wonderful thing, and we’re progressing rapidly. I hope you find this all as exciting as I did.

Dr. Tamsin.

*Article: Why are mRNA vaccines so exciting?, by Anthony Komaroff, MD. Published by Harvard Health Publishing, 18 Dec 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-are-mrna-vaccines-so-exciting-2020121021599