‘A booster for all of us’

The Penn Medicine community gathered Monday afternoon, toasting to Penn’s new Nobel laureates.

Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman and a crowd of people at Penn Medicine.
Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman were named winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, Oct. 2. The Penn Medicine community came together to celebrate the duo.

To celebrate Nobel Prize winners Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, the Penn Medicine community gathered on Monday afternoon for a “flash mob” at Smilow Commons Lobby at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

“I see researchers, I see collaborators, I see people from my lab having a work break,” said Weissman to the crowd, joined together just hours after receiving the good news. “You guys are deserving of this award as much as Kati and I because you guys are the heart of Penn Medicine. You guys are the researchers of the future.”

“I wish you, all of you, to persevere, enjoy what you are doing, and have fun,” Karikó said. “Do great things, and don’t give up that easily.”

Bottles of bubbly were popped and Philly pretzels were handed out to attendees, who toasted and cheered for the messenger RNA pioneers. The Penn research partners spent years unlocking an understanding of how to modify mRNA to make it an effective therapeutic, which eventually was used to develop the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines.

Karikó and Weissman, Penn President Liz Magill said, are the “very best of science, they are the very best of Penn.”

“Millions of lives saved,” Magill continued. “New frontiers in medical research now wide open. Again and again, they came back to the promise of mRNA technology, overcoming challenges over many years. One determined step at a time.”

J. Larry Jameson, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine; Jon Epstein, executive vice dean and chief scientific officer at the School of Medicine; and Kevin B. Mahoney, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System also offered congratulatory messages and words of support during the gathering. 

Shubha Vasisht with colleague Emma Niemeyer, both Measey Scholars in the Department of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, shared in the thrill of the day. A Penn alumna, Vasisht explained how excited she was to be back at the University, doing research that can impact and improve patient care.

“Being able to be a part of a community that values innovation, and learning about this, and hearing about this, has been a really cool experience,” explained Vasisht, who was an undergraduate at the College of Arts & Sciences during the pandemic. “When we were finally able to come back because of the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine, it really made me appreciate the science behind it all, and made me even more interested in pursuing research, especially at Penn.”

Epstein put it best, aptly with a pun: Karikó and Weissman’s work and success is “a booster for all of us.”

Drew Weissman standing with the crowd at the Penn Medicine flash mob.
Katalin Kariko stands and has her photo taken at the Penn Medicine flash mob.
Drew Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor of Vaccine Research and Katalin Karikó is an adjunct professor of neurosurgery, both at the Perelman School of Medicine. (Images: Eddy Marenco)