2021 Lasker Awards Honor Work in mRNA Vaccines, Neuroscience and More - The New York Times
Sep 24, 2021 2 mins, 10 secs

The Lasker awards for 2021, announced Friday, were given to scientists whose work was crucial for Covid-19 vaccines, scientists who discovered how to control the firing of neurons with beams of light, and to a researcher whose influential work and leadership changed medical science.

Lasker was an advocate for medical research, and her husband is sometimes referred to as the father of modern advertising.

Drew Weissman, a professor in vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, shared this year’s Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Weissman proudly published a surprising finding they had made about messenger RNA, also known as mRNA, which provides instructions to cells to make proteins.

The scientists noticed that when they added mRNA to cells, the cells instantly destroyed it.

But at the time most scientists were uninterested in the technology, which was to become a keystone of mRNA vaccines, because they thought there were better ways to immunize.

The companies studied the use of mRNA vaccines for flu, cytomegalovirus and other illnesses, but none moved out of clinical trials for years.

Kariko said in an interview this week that, for her, the greatest reward is having played a part in developing a vaccine that saved so many lives.

Weissman stressed in an interview this week that although he and Dr.

Kariko are being honored, the work leading up to the mRNA vaccines involved more than just modifying mRNA.

“We did the modified mRNA and we are getting the honors, but the vaccines are based on 20-plus years of work by Kati and I and work by hundreds if not thousands of other scientists.”.

Karl Deisseroth of Stanford, Peter Hegemann, an emeritus professor at Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, and Dieter Oesterhelt of Humboldt University of Berlin shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

Now, using light-sensing proteins that they add to cells, scientists around the world are activating and silencing neurons in animals to study behaviors ranging from hunger and thirst to anxiety and parenting.

Deisseroth, who is also a psychiatrist, said in an interview this week that his message to the public is that the work “shows the value of pure basic science that is not necessarily guided by an immediate impact.”.

His greatest satisfaction, he said in an interview this week, has been his work in basic science, both the discoveries and their effects on medicine and society

“By focusing on basic science I have been able to have an impact on cancer, on AIDS, on immunology

“It proves the adage that basic science is the seed corn of societal impact.”


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