Behind the scenes in the lab and the future of mRNA research

Developing new vaccines and novel mRNA delivery methods, coupled with the satisfaction of mentoring and selfless dedication to medicine, inspire the work of scientists at the Weissman Lab.

It’s fair to call Drew Weissman, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, and Katalin Karikό, an adjunct professor in neurosurgery, household names in the science world. After their revolutionary mRNA research gave way to a safe and highly effective vaccine platform and the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, next came recognitions. From receiving the highly-prestigious Lasker Award to being named Time Magazine People of the Year, the two are now no strangers to the spotlight. But the story of mRNA research has a large cast of characters, especially when looking ahead to what the future holds for the power mRNA research.

A gloved hand holding a small vial of Sars-CoV2 mRNA vaccine.

“When I am asked who I am grateful for and who I have to thank for all the successes I’ve had in my research work, besides Kati [Karikó], I always think of the members of my lab,” says Weissman. “The scientists and students in my lab are continuing to help us build further understanding of mRNA vaccines and create mRNA vaccines for a variety of infectious diseases. I have a very determined, smart, and passionate team.”

Many individuals tied to Weissman and his lab have, over the years following their training and work at Penn, gone on to their own labs, to different universities, institutions, biomedical companies, and careers. Today, the lab is made up of 29 people—a mix of genders, ages, and ethnicities, united by an unyielding drive and a belief in mRNA technology. Four of these scientists—Elena Atochina-Vasserman, Norbert Pardi, Matthew Pine, and Nathan Ona—share their stories.

Their work includes further exploring mRNA delivery methods, a universal mRNA flu vaccine, and a preventive vaccine for Lyme disease, and development of an mRNA norovirus vaccine. When asked what they find inspiring, the scientists cited mentoring young scientists, the value of humility, and the satisfaction of working with good people that genuinely want to help humanity

Read more at Penn Medicine News.