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The importance of fundamental research; Radboud honorary doctorate for Katalin Karikó

Date of news: 23 September 2022

Katalin kariko okt22

On 20 October 2022 Katalin Karikó, biomolecular chemist and Senior Vice-President of BioNTech, will receive an honorary doctorate from Radboud University. Her research work provided the scientific basis for the current mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. The honorary doctorate will be presented to her during the celebration of the 99th Dies Natalis of Radboud university. Floris Rutjes, Professor in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Director of the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University: “A prime example of the beneficial impact that fundamental research can eventually have on society.”


Karikó led a research programme on medical applications of mRNA. A new revolutionary technique was born when she demonstrated that it is possible to trigger an immune response in the body using mRNA without the body turning against the mRNA itself. Thanks to Karikó’s scientific results, BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna were able to develop the current mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. The 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-like proteins.

Fundamental science

Katalin Karikó’s work underlines the importance of fundamental research, which is based on creativity and critical thinking. It gives researchers the liberty to explore their scientific curiosity and it benefits society as it increases fundamental knowledge, allowing unexpected long-term applications. “Karikó kept believing in her ideas and stayed strong despite setbacks. With courage and determination, she pursued her scientific vision for a long time, and by doing so she has ultimately made a more than significant contribution to the fight against viral diseases”, Rutjes says.

About Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó (Szolnok, Hungary, 1955) is Professor at the University of Szeged (Hungary) and adjunct professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). She is also Senior Vice-President of BioNTech. She received numerous significant 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.

News item RU: https://www.ru.nl/en/about-us/news/radboud-honorary-doctorate-for-katalin-kariko

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