Karikó has spent decades of her career researching the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA, a component of DNA that is considered to be one of the main building blocks of life. Through multiple setbacks, job losses, doubt and a transatlantic move, Karikó stood by her conviction: That mRNA could be used for something truly groundbreaking. Now, that work is the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Karikó, 65, began her career in her native Hungary in the 1970s, when mRNA research was new and the possibilities seemed endless. But the call of the American dream (and more researching and funding opportunities) took root.
She continued her research at Temple, and then at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. But by then, the bloom was off the rose of mRNA research, and Karikó’s idea that it could be used to fight disease was deemed too radical, too financially risky to fund. She applied for grant after grant, but kept getting rejections, and in 1995, she was demoted from her position at UPenn. She also was 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 both Weissman and Karikó, now a senior vice president of the Germany-based BioNTech, deserve a Nobel Prize.
While recognition, after all of this time, must be nice, Karikó says scientific glory isn’t what’s on her mind right now.
“Really, we will celebrate when this human suffering is over, when the hardship and all of this terrible time will end, and hopefully in the summer when we will forget about virus and vaccine. And then I will be really celebrating,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Karikó said she plans to get the vaccine soon, along with Weissman, and she said she’s “very, very confident” it will work. After all, it was their discoveries that contributed to it.
In the meantime, Karikó said she allowed herself a little treat to celebrate the vaccine news: a bag of Goobers, her favorite candy.