How mRNA Vaccines Changed the Course of the COVID-19 Pandemic - Seeker's Thoughts

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How mRNA Vaccines Changed the Course of the COVID-19 Pandemic

 Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, mRNA technology has proven its worth in driving vaccine and therapeutic development efforts forward - though not without setbacks.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Traditional vaccines rely on dead or weakened viruses grown inside chicken eggs; with mRNA vaccines, your cells receive the blueprints they need to produce the proteins associated with pathogens on their own.

How mRNA Vaccines Work

Like traditional vaccines, mRNA vaccines help your immune system produce antibodies to fight off germs. But unlike their traditional counterparts, mRNA vaccines don't contain the actual virus responsible for disease; rather they provide your cells with instructions to produce a protein mimicking coronavirus spike protein - something your body sees and reacts against, prompting an immune response that could prevent future illness if exposed to real viruses.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines currently available target the surface spike protein of COVID virus infection to significantly decrease symptoms like fever, headaches, chills and joint/muscle soreness in those infected by it. While not a complete cure for COVID infection itself, they provide significant relief of its symptoms, including fever headache chills joint/muscle soreness among other health complications.

mRNA vaccines differ from other forms of vaccines in that they do not contain live viruses and thus cannot infiltrate cells, as well as being significantly quicker and easier to produce than traditional ones. They can be packaged into lipid nanoparticle carriers to enable rapid uptake by cells without entering their nuclei and damaging DNA; and do not require cold storage before breaking down upon reaching their instructions to cells.

Why mRNA Vaccines Are So Effective

mRNA vaccines offer effective protection from new infectious diseases and their variants because they can be designed, manufactured, and tested quickly in people. While traditionally this process takes 10 to 15 years to complete, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were created, produced, tested on people, shown safe and effective in just over one year!

Researchers packaged mRNA into lipid droplets that allowed it to enter immune system cells and attach themselves to their ribosomes, where it instructs cells to produce spike proteins (spines protruding from coronavirus surfaces) that would make it capable of entering cells and causing disease. When presented to dendritic cells for display by immune system cells, these spike proteins are recognized as foreign and attacked by their natural immune response; providing a way for an mRNA vaccine to prime its effects against any future infection from infection with real coronavirus!

Research in cancer immunotherapy laid the foundation for fast design, production, and testing of mRNA vaccines, with decades of work helping unlock people's natural immunity against tumors using targeted drugs. This work led to breakthroughs that led to effective checkpoint inhibitor treatments which have allowed many cancer patients to experience long-term responses against their tumors.

How mRNA Vaccines Are Made

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and previous viral outbreaks, there has been an increased need for more efficient vaccine technology. mRNA vaccines hold out hope as an innovative new form of protection that could possibly prevent future pandemics and epidemics.

These vaccines differ from traditional vaccination by employing messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach cells how to make a foreign protein that the immune system will then recognize and attack. Such vaccines have already proven successful against infectious diseases like influenza virus, Zika virus, rabies, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and cytomegalovirus; they're also being researched as potential treatment against cancerous conditions like myelodysplastic syndrome and myelodisplastic syndrome.

The mRNA used to construct vaccines is produced through a multistep in vitro transcription reaction. Once synthesized, the mRNA can be packaged into a delivery vehicle to facilitate its in vivo uptake and delivery to cells for translation in the cytoplasm, where its functional protein product will then be produced.

mRNA provides numerous advantages over subunit, killed or live attenuated viruses and DNA-based vaccines. First of all, mRNA is non-infectious with a natural half-life of two days in cells and its inherent immunogenicity can be modified using various modifications and formulations9-12. Furthermore, direct delivery into cytoplasm obviates the need for additional adjuvants.

Why mRNA Vaccines Are So Expensive

The production process for mRNA vaccines is substantially quicker than that used to produce viral-based ones, due to mRNA's production being a cell-free biochemical process utilizing synthetic enzymes instead. This means mRNA does not need to be enclosed within an oily layer and purification can occur much more easily.

Lipid nanoparticles, fat-based molecules which bind tightly with mRNA molecules and transport it to the body, play an essential part in mRNA vaccine success. Furthermore, this packaging protects mRNA from degradation or losing its immunostimulatory qualities over time.

mRNA has garnered widespread interest as an oncology treatment option, where its main goal is to encode proteins that target cancerous cells and cause their destruction. Unfortunately, however, its lack of existing cancer vaccines as benchmarks makes evaluation difficult.

By contrast, mRNA vaccine research holds many advantages when applied to infectious diseases, with many of the most effective vaccines already existing against certain conditions. Thus, as it has progressed from academic labs into an industry, its scope has quickly expanded into human clinical studies.

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