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;
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
*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