Nobel Prize for medicine: How mRNA vaccines against Covid demonstrate the need for science for science's sake – Scotsman comment

Once-dismissed research into mRNA vaccines produced a highly effective weapon in the war against Covid

In the 1990s, two scientists working on developing new mRNA vaccines discovered the rest of the world “really didn’t care about it”. But if anyone believed they were working in a dead-end field, events 30 years later were to prove the doubters wrong. After Covid hit, the rapid creation of effective mRNA vaccines saved countless lives.

Furthermore, there is now growing optimism that the vaccines could be used against diseases like Ebola, malaria, dengue, and even some kinds of cancer.

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Yesterday Professors Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in recognition of what the judges called their “groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system”. Their work had enabled the swift development of vaccines to combat “one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times”.

There is an idea that scientists should restrict their research to areas with practical, immediate applications and that science for science’s sake is a luxury. However, as mRNA vaccines demonstrate, advancing the sum of human knowledge is a cause to be pursued on all fronts.

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