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Leaders in Innovation

2023 Inductee Katalin Karikó: Supporting Global Health

In partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® has inducted more than 600 visionary inventors since 1973. Each of our Inductees is an inspiring U.S. patent holder who has benefited our society and shaped our lives.

As we celebrate the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary, we are proud to welcome our 2023 class of Inductees, which includes biochemist Katalin Karikó and immunologist Drew Weissman. Their work led to the mRNA vaccines that have been developed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep reading to learn more about Karikó’s contributions to global health.

Lifelong Learning

“My science teachers made sure that I stayed curious for life and encouraged me to keep learning,” Karikó said.

Born in Szolnok, Hungary, in 1955, she followed her curiosity to the University of Szeged, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1978 and a doctorate in biochemistry in 1982. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences before immigrating to the United States with her husband and young daughter in 1985.

In 1989, she joined the faculty of the Perelman School of Medicine’s neurosurgery department at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met Weissman.

In 1997, Karikó and Weissman began to collaborate in investigating mRNA, the genetic material in the human body that instructs cells to make proteins. Their research led them to make vital discoveries in disease prevention and treatment.


Monumental Modification

In the early 2000s, Karikó and Weissman discovered that by replacing one of the four building blocks of mRNA molecules, uridine, with pseudouridine, they could create a modified mRNA with favorable qualities and reduced adverse reactions.

Unmodified mRNA molecules are unable to slip past the body’s immune system, but Karikó and Weissman found that their changes allowed the resulting modified mRNA to avoid immediate detection, remain active longer and enter cells to efficiently instruct them to create antigens or other proteins that fight or treat disease. This discovery made it possible for modified mRNA to be applied to an array of potential uses in future vaccines and treatments.

When the modified, synthetic mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna is delivered into the human body, it instructs cells to make copies of the spike protein of the virus. If a vaccinated individual is later exposed to the real virus, their immune system will recognize it and rapidly trigger an immune response to protect against severe disease. Several billion mRNA vaccine doses have been administered worldwide since December 2020.

Karikó is a founding member of the planning committee for the International mRNA Health Conference, an annual event started in 2013. She holds 14 U.S. patents and is a professor at the University of Szeged and an adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2021, Karikó was recognized with the Wilhelm Exner Medal, awarded annually since 1921 to scientists and researchers who have had a direct impact on business and industry through their scientific achievements. In her acceptance of this award, she spoke directly to young girls who might be compelled to pursue a future in science. “Stay curious,” said Karikó. “Adopt the right attitude and stay on the track no matter how long and winding that road may be.”


Meet More Inspiring 2023 Inductees

To learn more about the visionary creators and innovators who make up our latest class of Inductees, we invite you to visit our website.

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