For developing the vaccine that plays key role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Katalin Karikó is receiving the prestigious Doctor Honoris Causa title from the University of Szeged. The Senate of the University of Szeged unanimously supported the decision to award the Alumna who received both her Biology and Doctoral degree at the old József Attila University of Szeged.
Dr. Katalin Karikó’s name became world-famous in 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. After finding out about the life work of the SZTE’s Alumna who developed a modern vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Senate of the University held a discussion on the 25th of January 2021 about the Doctor Honoris Causa title to be given to her.
Becoming a Biologist at her University in Szeged
Katalin Karikó has been connected to Szeged for more than 50 years. As a student from Kisújszállás, she was always interested in biological studies. She participated in the József Attila University of Szeged’s (JATE) preparatory talent care programme, which in the beginning of the 1970s supported financially disadvantaged high school students until being accepted to the University. She told stories first-hand about her experiences at the JATE preparatory summer camps in 1972 and 1973 in the interview titled ‘Katalin Karikó, an Alumna of the University of Szeged, is the Founder of the Most Promising Vaccine Development against the Coronavirus’ published at the SZTE Press Portal on 09 April 2020.
Katalin Karikó began her studies as a student of the József Attila University of Szeged in 1973.
‘The 5 years I spent at the University of Szeged were the happiest years of my life’ - she said in the interview to the SZTE Press Portal. It was also mentioned in this interview for the first time that according to the then published ‘University of Szeged’ journal, Katalin Karikó, Biology student at the JATE’s Department of Sciences earned the most prestigious People’s Republic Scholarship for 3 academic years. Katalin continued her university studies with excellent grades between 1973 and 1978.
Becoming a Researcher at the Biological Research Centre, Szeged
‘Between 1978 and 1982, Katalin Karikó carried out her research work which formed the basis of her doctoral dissertation at the Biological Research Centre, Szeged’ - said the proposal submitted to the Senate of the University of Szeged.
‘Molecular biology which is based on the knowledge of the functions and the structure of the nucleic acids, has become a dominant discipline in the life sciences worldwide during this period. The research workshop, to which Katalin Karikó joined with her doctoral studies, represented the world-class discipline at the time. Katalin Karikó obtained her doctoral degree at our university in 1983, and then continued her research work at the Biological Research Centre, Szeged for another two years’ - Prof. Dr. Márta Széll described a career worth to be awarded with doctor honoris causa title. Based on her own experience, the Vice-Rector for Strategic Planning of the SZTE is well acquainted with the steps of a biological researcher's career.
Armed with the professional experience gained at the Institute of Biophysics of the Biological Research Centre, Szeged, Dr. Katalin Karikó continued her research work from 1985 in the United States of America, Philadelphia and Washington, which was closely linked and tied in many threads to the topic she learned in Szeged, and was a direct continuation of it.
Message to the Cell
’As a researcher, the primary focus was on studying the structure of ribonucleic acid and exploring the potential of RNA modification’ - explained Prof. Dr. Márta Széll.
The primary focus of Dr. Katalin Karikó’s research is the messenger of biological nucleic acid information, the so-called messenger RNA or mRNA.’ With the results of the research, which was started at the University of Szeged, she made a significant contribution to the demonstration, that mRNA can be effectively used for directed protein production in living systems with appropriate modification and purification, thus laying the foundations for versatile therapeutic developments.
‘Her results of decades of sacrificial work, peaked in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on the results of her research and development, the mRNA-based vaccine now represents a revolutionary new approach to vaccine production. In order to support the production of a breakthrough vaccine, Dr Katalin Karikó joined a biotechnology company in 2013 that further developed her basic research results, which in 2020, in cooperation with a multinational pharmaceutical company, produced the COVID-19 vaccine, which is already being used worldwide’ – she summed up the laudation.
Belonging to the SZTE’s Community
‘Graduating at the University of Szeged and being an Alumna of SZTE was a determining role in Katalin Karikó’s life. Her focused and innovative approach in work is a role model to researchers working in any field of science. The University of Szeged is proud to know that Katalin Karikó’s professional life started with her studies at the University. We would feel really honoured to welcome her ‘back’ as a holder of Doctor Honoris Causa.’ – The ending sentence of the proposal of Prof. Dr. László Rovó, the Rector of the University of Szeged states, read by Prof. Dr. Márta Széll.
The members of the University Doctoral Council decided unanimously to accept the proposal (with 36 yes) - just as the 12 members of the Deans’ Association of SZTE did - online on January 25th.
Prof. Gábor Szabó, previous rector of the SZTE says ‘Kati Karikó and I were in the same year at the University while living in the Herman Dormitory. She has very nice memories about her Alma Mater and appreciates the proposal submitted to the SZTE’s Senate’.
‘The Senate’s decision made on January 25th has an outstanding importance: Dr. Katalin Karikó returned to the University of Szeged as a Doctor of Honor’ – assessed the outcome Prof. Dr. László Rovó, the Rector of the University of Szeged
SZTEinfo – I. Ú
Photos by: K. K.
Previous article is available here: Katalin Karikó, an Alumna of the University of Szeged, is the Founder of the Most Promising Vaccine Development against the Coronavirus.