Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have now heard of – and have received – an mRNA vaccine. Now a game-changer, scientists are wondering if mRNA vaccines could provide a cure for cancers, HIV, tropical diseases, and even give us superhuman immunity?
- Messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, carries genetic code from DNA to a cell’s protein-making machinery. Without mRNA, your genetic code wouldn’t be used, proteins wouldn’t be made, and your body wouldn’t work. If DNA is the bank card, then mRNA is the card reader.
- When a virus enters our cells it releases its own RNA, tricking our cells into replicating copies of the virus in the form of viral proteins.
- Traditional vaccines would work by injecting inactive virus proteins called antigens to trigger the body’s immune system to recognize the virus when it appears.
Now mRNA vaccines are seen as safer, cheaper, and quicker to produce, compared to traditional vaccines — not to mention an efficacy rate scientists pre-COVID-19 would have found pretty amazing.
Now the possibilities seem endless, and scientists are looking to address many other diseases.
- New mRNA technology is looking to be applied to Sars and HIV, as well as Zika, herpes and malarial parasites in the pathogens camp.
- Autoimmune diseases. Beyond the scope of “vaccines,” there could also be “treatments” for ailments such as inflammation, opening up many possibilities.
Lipids or fats used to envelope the mRNA and safely deliver it to the cells of the body were perfected in 2018, just in time for the Covid-19 vaccine development.
- Many research studies looking at broader applications of combining this new lipid delivery technique with mRNA are looking at genetic disorders, cancer immunotherapy, infectious diseases and bacterial infections.
- Other pharmaceuticals are developing vaccines and treatments for cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, pulmonary disease, and asthma.
The first of the newest mRNA vaccines could be for influenza.
And several pharmaceuticals are pursuing vaccines and treatments for cancer.
“You can train your immune system to recognise and kill those cells, just like you can train your immune system to recognise and kill a virus: it’s the same idea, you just figure out what proteins are on the surface of your tumour cells and use that as a vaccine”.
The idea of patient-specific, individualised medicine has been a tantalising prospect for years – this could be another door pushed wide open by mRNA, according to Blakney. In theory, “they take out your tumour, they sequence it, see what’s on the surface of it, and then they make a vaccine specifically for you”.
There is also potential for concerns of antibiotic resistance, lactose intolerance, and high cholesterol.
More at BBC