Radboud honorary doctorate for Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó, a biochemical researcher and Senior Vice-President of BioNTech, is set to receive an honorary doctorate from Radboud University. Her research provided the scientific platform for the current mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. Karikó will be presented with her honorary doctorate during the celebration of the university’s 99th Dies Natalis, or anniversary, on 20 October 2022.

Karikó spent years researching medical applications of mRNA, first at the University of Szeged in Hungary and later at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. Her dream was to develop synthetic mRNA and to use this to cure cancer, strokes and influenza.

Katalin Karikó

Eventually, after years of toil, rejection and criticism from colleagues, she and fellow researcher Drew Weissman demonstrated that it is possible to trigger an immune response in the body with mRNA without the body turning against the mRNA itself. With this breakthrough, a new revolutionary technique was born.

Thanks to Karikó’s scientific work, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna were able to develop the current mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. This technique involves the introduction of messenger RNA (mRNA) into the cell, which then stimulates the cell to produce proteins. These proteins resemble the ‘spike proteins’ of the coronavirus, and the body reacts by producing an immune response to these self-made virus proteins. ‘It seems to be a more efficient way of eliciting an immune response than with traditional vaccines,’ says honorary supervisor Floris Rutjes, Professor in Organic Synthesis.

‘Karikó did not have a large research group and never received much funding,’ adds Rutjes, ‘but she is someone who believes in her ideas, someone who has remained strong despite setbacks. With courage and determination, she pursued her scientific vision for a very long time, and by doing so she has ultimately made a significant contribution to the fight against viral diseases.’

About Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó (Szolnok, Hungary, 1955) is a professor at the University of Szeged (Hungary) and an adjunct professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). She is also the Senior Vice-President of BioNTech. She has very recently received numerous prestigious awards for her achievements, including the Gairdner Award, the Japan Prize, the Paul Ehrlich Prize, the BBVA Award, the Breakthrough Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize, the Keio Prize, the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Tang Prize and the Lasker Award.

Contact information

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Current affairs, Molecules and materials, Health & Healthcare