Video: ‘The palette of modern therapeutics’ — mRNA and the COVID vaccines explained

Credit: Johns Hopkins
Credit: Johns Hopkins

Rather than tinkering with the virus or its parts, [mRNA vaccine technology] harnesses the “beauty of our biology” to deliver protection, said RNA virologist Paul Duprex, who directs the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research. These vaccines teach the body to remember one of the coronavirus’ defining features — its spike protein — and prompt the creation of antibodies that can prevent it from infecting cells.

Our DNA resides inside the nucleus of our cells. Every day, mRNA molecules constantly carry genetic information coded in that DNA from the nucleus to the parts of the cells, called ribosomes, that can interpret those messages and then make the proteins that carry out essential biological processes. Without it, life would be impossible.

“Pretty much every single cell in my body at this particular moment is producing billions and billions and billions of messenger RNAs,” Duprex said.

Vaccines that use synthetic mRNA add one more type of mRNA to the legion of other molecules “doing their daily business” within our bodies, and use it “to make a protein which the immune system will see and make antibodies against and protect us from a disease,” Duprex added.

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Duprex said, “the beautiful thing about this is this just gives us another brush for the palette of novel therapeutics.”

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