mRNA technology promises to revolutionize future vaccines

More than 80 million Americans have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — using the game-changing possibilities of mRNA technology. And while some people worry that the technology has been “rushed,” for more than 25 years university labs have been exploring the use of RNA, rather than viruses, to build the body’s immunity against diseases…

Messenger RNA (mRNA) — the basis of the first two vaccines cleared for public use by the Food and Drug Administration — induces cells to set off an immune response against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Vaccine researchers believe the success of these inoculations will usher in the most radical change to vaccine development since Jenner tapped a cow virus two centuries ago.

mRNA emerged as an alternative to traditional vaccine development in the early 1990s, building on research involving RNA injections into mice at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. mRNA is a molecule that essentially delivers instructions to cells to build specific proteins. Proteins are key to the success of a viral infection, because they enable a virus to replicate after it attaches to a cell. The coronavirus, for example, attaches to a cell with a so-called “spike” protein, which triggers the viral replication that turns the infection into COVID-19.

The theory behind the vaccines is that mRNA will tell a cell to make a protein that’s used by a certain virus, which would set off an immune response that builds the body’s ability to fend off the actual virus.

“It’s essentially biological software,”…says John Cooke, MD, PhD, medical director of the RNA Therapeutics Program at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Yes, it really is that simple to explain. That simplicity is part and parcel of time saved, costs lowered, for the design of production-ready vaccines.

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