Nobel Prize 2023: Pioneers of mRNA Vaccines Rewarded for Revolutionising Immunisation
In a groundbreaking announcement on October 2, 2023, the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine to United States scientists, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman. Their pioneering work in “nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines against COVID-19” has forever changed the landscape of medicine and vaccine development.
- The Nobel Prize Laureates:
- Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, US scientists recognized for their groundbreaking contributions to mRNA vaccine development.
- Transformation of Understanding:
- Kariko and Weissman’s discoveries fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with the human immune system.
- Their work contributed to the unprecedented speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed during a global health crisis.
- Evolution of Vaccines:
- Traditional vaccines were based on killed/weakened viruses, viral genetic code, or vectors. These methods required large-scale cell culture.
- Cell culture limitations prompted researchers to seek vaccine technologies independent of cell culture, a challenging endeavour.
- mRNA as a Game-Changer:
- In the 1980s, scientists achieved mRNA production without cell culture through in vitro transcription, sparking research into mRNA’s potential for vaccines and therapies.
- However, in vitro transcribed mRNA faced stability and delivery challenges, causing inflammatory reactions.
- Collaboration at the University of Pennsylvania:
- Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian-born biochemist, and immunologist Drew Weissman collaborated in the 1990s at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Their research focused on how different RNA types interacted with the immune system, particularly dendritic cells.
- Identifying the Problem:
- Kariko and Weissman discovered that dendritic cells recognized in vitro transcribed mRNA as foreign, triggering inflammation.
- They realised that some critical properties distinguished different types of mRNA.
- Base Modifications:
- RNA is composed of 4 bases (A, U, G, and C). Kariko and Weissman hypothesised that unmodified bases caused inflammatory reactions.
- They produced mRNA variants with unique base modifications and tested them on dendritic cells.
- Base modifications in the mRNA almost eliminated inflammatory responses in 2005, 15 years before the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Enhanced Protein Production:
- Further studies in 2008 and 2010 by Kariko and Weissman demonstrated that base-modified mRNA significantly increased protein production while reducing inflammation.
- Emergence of mRNA Vaccines:
- By the year 2010, numerous companies were actively involved in the development of mRNA vaccines. After the COVID-19 outbreak, two base-modified mRNA vaccines encoding the SARS-CoV-2 surface protein were developed at record speed.
- These vaccines boasted protective effects of around 95% and received approval as early as December 2020.
- Lifesaving Impact:
- mRNA vaccines have saved millions of lives and prevented severe disease, enabling societies to reopen and return to normal conditions.
|Nobel Prize Recipients
|Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman
|Nobel Prize Category
|mRNA vaccine development for COVID-19
|Changed understanding of mRNA and immunity
|Traditional Vaccine Production Methods
|Killed/weakened viruses, genetic code, vectors
|Reduced dependence on large-scale cell culture
|mRNA Challenges and In Vitro Transcription
|Stability and delivery issues, inflammatory reactions
|Collaborative Research Institution
|University of Pennsylvania, USA
|Focus of Research
|The interplay between various RNA types and the immune system
|Discovery of Dendritic Cell Reaction
|Dendritic cells recognizing foreign mRNA
|Unique chemical alterations to mRNA bases
|2005 (15 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)
|Enhanced Protein Production
|Significantly increased protein production
|Emergence of mRNA Vaccines
|Rapid development and high efficacy against COVID-19
|Impact on Society
|Saving millions of lives and enabling societal reopening
The 2023 Nobel Prize for Medicine celebrates the remarkable contributions of Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose work on mRNA vaccines has reshaped the future of medicine and vaccination. Their innovative approach to modifying mRNA’s base pairs has not only accelerated COVID-19 vaccine development but promises to revolutionise immunisation strategies for generations to come.
PM Modi Announces National Turmeric Board and Tribal University for Telangana
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Mahabubnagar, Telangana, brought forth significant announcements with multiple key aspects, including the remarkable health benefits of turmeric:
- National Turmeric Board:
- Location: Established in Mahabubnagar.
- Objective: To provide comprehensive support to turmeric farmers, offering assistance in all aspects of turmeric cultivation.
- Significance: Empowers turmeric farmers, strengthens India’s position as a global turmeric producer, and contributes to rural development.
- Sammakka Sarakka Tribal University:
- Allocation: 900 crore rupees for the development of this educational institution.
- Objective: Focused on education and empowerment of tribal communities in the region.
- Significance: Demonstrates the government’s commitment to education and the welfare of tribal populations.
- Turmeric and Type 2 Diabetes:
- Characteristics: Turmeric contains curcumin, an active compound.
- Health Benefits: Curcumin has potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Relevance: Curcumin’s ability to improve insulin sensitivity suggests its value in managing type 2 diabetes.
- Significance: Highlights the broader health significance of turmeric beyond culinary uses.
- India’s Role in Turmeric Production:
- Global Position: India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turmeric.
- Economic Significance: Turmeric is a vital commodity in the global spice trade, contributing to India’s economy.
- Local Impact: Promotes income generation and the well-being of turmeric farmers.
- Government’s Commitment to Development:
- Infrastructure Projects: Inaugurated various infrastructure projects, including a new railway line and LPG pipeline.
- Economic Growth: Infrastructure development enhances economic activity and creates employment opportunities.
- Education and Empowerment: Investment in the Tribal University reflects the government’s dedication to education and empowerment.
- Strengthening Cultural and Economic Significance:
- Cultural Heritage: Recognizes the cultural significance of turmeric in Indian cuisine and traditions.
- Economic Growth: Bolsters India’s position in the global market and contributes to rural prosperity.
- Regional Impact: Specifically benefits districts like Hanumkonda, Warangal, Khammam, and Mahabubnagar.
|National Turmeric Board
|Support for turmeric farmers
|Sammakka Sarakka Tribal University
|Allocation of 900 crore rupees
|Boost to economic activity and employment
|Food Processing Mega Park
|Benefits for specific districts
|New railway line, LPG pipeline, highway
|Multi Product Pipeline
|Connecting Krishnapatnam to Hyderabad
|Projects worth over 13,500 crore rupees
Turmeric’s health benefits, including its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, make it a valuable addition to both cuisine and wellness practices. Prime Minister Modi’s announcements in Mahabubnagar underscore the government’s multi-faceted approach to development, emphasising education, agriculture, and infrastructure, with a focus on empowering rural communities and promoting India’s cultural, economic strengths, and well-being.
Source: The Indian Express
Revisiting Age of Consent: Law Commission’s Recommendations on the POCSO Act
In a significant development, the Law Commission of India has addressed the issue of age of consent under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The Commission, headed by former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, has presented its recommendations, exploring the delicate balance between protecting children and preventing unintended consequences.
- Maintaining Age of Consent (18 years):
- The Law Commission cautions against lowering the age of consent to 16, as it may have unintended consequences and weaken the effectiveness of the POCSO Act.
- Need for Judicial Discretion:
- Instead of altering the age of consent, the Commission suggests introducing guided judicial discretion in sentencing for cases involving individuals aged 16-18.
- This discretion aims to ensure that the law is balanced, safeguarding the best interests of the child.
- POCSO Act Impact:
- The blanket criminalization of sexual activity among and with children, although intended to protect them, has led to the incarceration of young adolescents.
- This situation has negative physical and mental health impacts on children and places a burden on investigative agencies and courts.
- Concerns about Lowering Age of Consent:
- Lowering the age of consent to 16 could create challenges in differentiating genuine cases from consensual relationships.
- Investigating agencies might struggle to determine consent accurately, potentially leading to a reduced focus on prosecuting genuine cases.
- Protection of Children’s Rights:
- The Law Commission underscores the importance of protecting children from exploitation, especially girls aged 16 to 18.
- Consent, even if it appears to exist, can be easily manipulated, putting children at risk of grooming, cyber-crimes, and trafficking.
- Limited Judicial Discretion:
- The Commission proposes a balanced approach with limited judicial discretion at the sentencing stage.
- This discretion would be exercised in cases where factual consent from a child above 16 appears to exist.
|Empowers the government to create specific regulations for the welfare of children. It underscores the constitutional basis for enacting laws like the POCSO Act that aim to safeguard children’s rights and welfare.
|Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 375
|Defines the age of consent for sexual intercourse, which is set at 18 years. Any sexual activity involving a person below 18 years old, even with their consent, is considered an offense unless it falls under an exception.
|Juvenile Justice Act
|The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, defines a “juvenile” as a person who has not completed 18 years of age.
|POCSO Act (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012)
|The POCSO Act is specifically designed to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The legislation stipulates that a child is an individual under the age of 18 years old
|Indian Constitution, Article 15(3)
|This constitutional article underlines the State’s authority to make special provisions for children,
|Limited Judicial Discretion at Sentencing Stage
|This measure involves allowing Special Courts to exercise discretion in sentencing for cases where factual consent from a child aged 16 or above appears to exist. It aims to ensure a balanced approach.
In conclusion, the Law Commission’s report addresses the complexities surrounding the age of consent under the POCSO Act. It underscores the importance of protecting children while recognizing the need for a balanced approach that takes into account the evolving dynamics of relationships among adolescents. The Commission’s recommendations aim to protect children’s rights, ensuring they receive the support and guidance they need while navigating their formative years.The Law Commission’s recommendations reflect a thoughtful approach to a complex issue, seeking to uphold both the protection of children and the principles of justice.
Source: The Indian Express