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mRNA Technology

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- Overview

With success in vaccinations during the global pandemic, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology is having a prime time. This versatile platform has already been used to develop research vaccines against other infectious diseases. But its potential doesn't stop there. Over the next decade, the technology could transform medicine.

The many advantages of mRNA technology - its flexibility, speed, and potency - have scientists worldwide excited about its potential future applications, such as vaccination against other pathogens, treatment of rare diseases and cancer, and more.


- Messenger RNA

mRNA is a type of single-stranded RNA involved in protein synthesis. mRNA is made from a DNA template during transcription. The role of mRNA is to carry the protein message from the DNA in the nucleus to the cytoplasm (the watery interior), where the protein-making machinery reads the mRNA sequence and translates each three-base codon into its corresponding amino acid protein chain. 

Messenger RNA or mRNA. So mRNA is actually a nucleic acid that helps the cellular machinery read the human genome encoded in DNA. So we have DNA in the nucleus of our cells. Then we have ribosomes and other organelles that translate DNA. But between the DNA code itself and the machines that use the DNA to make proteins, there must be a translator. mRNA is actually the translated form of DNA that machines can recognize and use to assemble amino acids into proteins. So this is actually the fundamental link between what we think of as the code of life and the actual cells that are able to build living organisms. In this sense, although DNA gets more discussion than RNA, mRNA is a really important part of the basic way that living organisms are created.


- The Groundbreaking mRNA Technology

mRNA is a molecule that contains instructions, or recipes, that instruct a cell to use its natural machinery to make proteins. To get into cells, mRNA moves inside protective air bubbles called lipid nanoparticles. Once inside, our cells read the mRNA as a set of instructions to build proteins that match parts of pathogens called antigens. 

The immune system sees these foreign antigens as invaders -- dispatching defenders called antibodies and T cells -- and trains the immune system to deal with possible future attacks. So, if and when a real virus shows up, the body may recognize it -- sounding the alarm to help fight off infection and disease.

When the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine first began receiving emergency use authorization in December 2020, it was a tremendous scientific achievement. Millions around the globe had been eagerly awaiting a vaccine against COVID-19 disease -- and one was delivered in record-setting time thanks to the groundbreaking mRNA technology. 

mRNA may change the course of medicine. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was the first authorized vaccine to use messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA, like many “overnight sensations,” has been under research for decades; that research, coupled with timely advancements, coalesced into a milestone in efforts against the pandemic. It also became a potential watershed moment for this new modality whose opportunities in medicine may be enormous.


- mRNA Technology and mRNA Vaccine

Although many people first became aware of mRNA technology because of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is not new to the scientific community. For decades, scientists have studied mRNA, looking for ways to unlock its potential to prevent and treat disease. While the mechanism by which mRNA technology works is relatively simple—once inside a cell, it instructs the cell to build proteins—researchers have had to work over the years to develop techniques that allow mRNA to do its job in the real world. 

mRNA has proven to be an excellent platform for vaccine development (and potential therapeutics), so our own cells can do the hard work of producing the proteins that generate the immune response that helps us ward off disease.


- mRNA Offers Potential for New Vaccines and Treatments

Human proteins have a variety of functions, including to maintain, repair and build essential components in the body, from hormones and enzymes to muscle fibers and antibodies. 

When designing an mRNA vaccine against a virus, scientists make a synthetic mRNA sequence – the instructions – for the cell to follow to make a protein to mimic one or more proteins – or antigens – found in the virus. 

When a person receives an mRNA vaccine, their cells take up the synthetic mRNA, which is delivered to the cell by a lipid nanoparticle. The mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell and does not interact with the body’s genetic material, which is made up of a different type of genetic material called deoxyribonucleotides, or DNA.

Once inside our cells, cellular machinery called a ribosome reads the mRNA as a set of instructions – like it does for any mRNA, building the proteins from the instruction that mimic part of the virus called antigens.

The immune system sees these antigens as invaders, which sets off an alarm to the immune system resulting in the dispatching of your body’s defenders including the B cells that will produce antibodies and T-cells – and training the immune system for potential future attacks.

Similarly, if a person is exposed to the virus, the body’s immune system will also recognize it and respond. One important difference is that the vaccine does not cause disease.

The versatility of mRNA and the ability of one’s body to create therapeutic proteins from synthetic mRNA shows tremendous potential in the fight against viruses, cancers, and even genetic and rare diseases with the possibility of repairing or replacing broken or deficient proteins that cause such diseases. 



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