Karikó has spent decades of her career exploring the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA, a component of DNA that is considered one of the main building blocks of life. Through multiple setbacks, job losses, doubts and a transatlantic step, Karikó stood by her conviction: This mRNA could be used for something really groundbreaking. This work is now the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Karikó, 65, started her career in her Hungarian homeland in the 1970s when mRNA research was new and the possibilities seemed endless. But the reputation of the American Dream (and more research and funding opportunities) was rooted.
She did research at Temple and then at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. But by then the blossom of the rose in mRNA research was far from blooming, and Karikó’s idea that it could be used to fight disease was viewed as too radical and too financially risky to be funded. She applied for scholarship after scholarship but received repeated rejections and was downgraded from her position at UPenn in 1995. She was also diagnosed with cancer around the same time.
From doubt to breakthrough
But she stuck with it.
That discovery is now the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine, and some have said that both Weissman and Karikó, now Senior Vice President of Germany-based BioNTech, deserve a Nobel Prize.
While recognition has to be nice after all this time, Karikó says that scientific fame isn’t what she’s thinking about right now.
“Really, we’re going to celebrate when this human suffering is over, when the hardship and all this terrible time ends, and hopefully in the summer when we forget about viruses and vaccines. And then I’ll really celebrate,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Karikó said she planned to get the vaccine with Weissman soon, and she said she was “very, very confident” that it will work. After all, their discoveries contributed to this.
Meanwhile, Karikó said she had a small treat to celebrate the vaccine news: a bag of goobers, her favorite candy.