Dr Katalin Karikó honoured by Trinity for mRNA research

25 Apr 2023

Dr Katalin Karikó. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Dr Karikó’s work was crucial in developing Covid-19 vaccines. She is also receiving an honorary doctorate from UCC this week.

Trinity College Dublin has awarded its 2023 Dawson prize in Genetics to Dr Katalin Karikó, the Hungarian-born scientist whose research into mRNA vaccines helped create life-saving vaccines against Covid-19.

The Dawson prize is awarded every three years by Trinity’s Smurfit Institute of Genetics to a prominent scientist who has made major contributions to genetics.

Karikó is a professor at the University of Szeged and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. She has dedicated her life to studying RNA-mediated mechanisms with the ultimate goal of developing in vitro-transcribed mRNA, or messenger RNA, for protein therapy.

Her research was key in figuring out how to modify mRNA and how to package mRNA in lipid nanoparticles. This made it possible for mRNA to reach the right parts of the body and trigger an immune response to fight disease.

The findings of her research was crucial in developing the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against Covid-19 which saved millions of lives. Karikó was previously a senior vice-president at BioNTech.

Karikó will spend time with Trinity staff and students today (25 April) and will give a public seminar about her career.

Trinity provost Dr Linda Doyle said Karikó is a “fitting recipient of the Dawson prize”. Doyle also thanked her for the public seminar which will “inspire the next generation of geneticists”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic presented the world with a unique set of challenges and Dr Karikó’s research proved critical in helping to develop vaccines that turned the tide against the virus,” Doyle said. “This is yet another example of the huge societal benefits that result from strong investment in research.”

The Trinity award was established by a gift from George Dawson, the founder of the university‘s Department of Genetics. In accordance with his wishes, recipients of the prize give a public lecture and spend at least a day in discussion with Smurfit students.

The award follows University College Cork’s decision to award an honorary doctorate to Karikó for her pioneering research. She will be presented the doctorate tomorrow (26 April) at a special ceremony in UCC.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic