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Röntgen's University celebrated Katalin Kariko, who met with young RNA researchers

Röntgen's University celebrated Katalin Kariko, who met with young RNA researchers

2023. July 31.
6 perc

A summer party marked the end of the Biozentrum Festival at the University of Würzburg. The guest of honour, biochemist Katalin Kariko, gave a lecture on 26 July 2023 and then she received the Theodor Boveri Prize, which was awarded to her 23 months ago. The world-renowned mRNA researcher, professor at the University of Szeged, and multiple academician met with an international group of doctoral students who are investigating RNA-based medicine.

Würzburg has been waiting since 25 August 2021 for Katalin Kariko to visit one of Germany's oldest universities. The prestige of the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) is reflected in the fact that 130 years ago the rector's chair was held by the physicist and mechanical engineer Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the first person to receive the Nobel Prize (1901) for the discovery of the X-ray beam which is named after him. About 23 months ago, it was announced in the city on the Main that Katalin Kariko was to receive an award from the Societas Physico-Medica in Würzburg "for her biochemical research that laid the foundations of the development of RNA vaccine against the coronavirus."

Guest of honour at the JMU Biozentrum Festival

Several headlines and newspaper articles were quoted in the press release of the University of Würzburg that announced Katalin Kariko’s visit. The programme guide entitled "The woman behind the breakthrough vaccine" recalled that, according to the Frankfurter Rundschau, she is regarded as "a key pioneer in the development of mRNA-based vaccines". According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, she "made such a discovery that many experts believe it is worthy of a Nobel Prize". For the New York Times, she is "the woman who helped shield the world from the new coronavirus." All these articles praised Katalin Kariko's research achievements. The quotes made the fact even more brilliant: the world-famous biochemist visited the University of Würzburg on 26 July 2023.

In the mini-biography of the guest of honour, it was emphasised that the scientist, whose research paved the way for the production of mRNA-based vaccines, was "Born in Hungary, she has been living in the USA since 1985 and works as a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she was the vice president of BioNTech in Mainz from 2013 until the end of September 2022. Since then, she has also been a professor at the University of Szeged." The method developed by her was not only effective in combating the coronavirus pandemic. In the future, mRNA technology could be used to prevent and to treat a wide range of diseases, from HIV to influenza and cancer.


Katalin Kariko's presentation filled the auditorium at the University of Würzburg's Biozentrum.

Katalin Kariko gave a Boveri lecture on the therapeutic development of mRNA at the Biozentrum Festival of the University of Würzburg. The lecture of the winner of the "Theodor Boveri Lecture Award 2021" was broadcast online.


Katalin Kariko gave a Boveri lecture at the JMU Biozentrum auditorium and received the Theodor Boveri Prize

23 months after the announcement

The Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria has awarded its most prestigious prize to Katalin Kariko in the field of life sciences. According to the laudation published 23 months ago, the Societas Physico-Medica, founded in 1849, awards the Theodor Boveri Prize to those "prominent scientists whose outstanding work has opened up new possibilities in biomedical research and its application in humans". Many renowned scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, were members of this society.

theodor_boveri_lecture_award_img_5767_j_330x330 "Without Katalin Kariko’s fundamental work, it would not have been possible to develop an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 in such a short time," said Professor Manfred Schartl, President of Physico-Medica.

"Despite the numerous failures and many obstacles, Professor Kariko did not let herself be deterred from research. This enabled her to achieve a decisive breakthrough after years of work in the laboratory," added Professor Utz Fischer, spokesperson for the Biozentrum.

It is a tradition for the researcher who has won a scientific prize to give a keynote speech at the event. After her Boveri lecture, Katalin Kariko attended the opening ceremony of the new Theodor Boveri exhibition at the JMU Biocentre. Theodor Henrich Boveri (1862-1915), one of the founders of comparative anatomy and modern cytology, is known for his observations and hypotheses on the cellular processes that cause cancer. The prize, named after the cell biology zoologist, is Katalin Kariko's 10th Germany-related honour.

This is the first time that the Würzburg Society of Physico-Medical Sciences (Societas Physico-Medica) has awarded the prize to a woman. The goal of the educational association, which highlights the links between medicine and natural science, is to encourage doctors to work scientifically and to involve students in research.

Elite network for doctoral students

The JMU Biocentre is home to prestigious scientific workshops. For example, at the Department of Biochemistry, the Szalay group is working on molecular oncology. Dr. Aladár Szalay, the research director, worked at the Biological Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences fifty years ago. However, it was not then and not in Szeged that he met Katalin Kariko, but now in Würzburg, where he had the chance to talk with award-winning professors and young researchers during the programmes before and after the "Theodor Boveri Lecture Award 2021" ceremony.


Two former employees of the Biological Research Institute of Szeged - Aladár Szalay and Katalin Kariko – took a photo together with the university students from Würzburg for the pleasure of meeting

MRNA-based therapies are already being tested in the clinic for the treatment of a number of diseases. However, the exceptionally rapid development of mRNA vaccines to combat the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has made it clear that this could be a new and significant class of molecules in the field of disease diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. The postgraduate programme "RNAmed - Future Leaders in RNA-based Medicine", launched in December 2022, was designed to respond to this opportunity.

"International spirit. Active networking. Extracurricular activities. "These are among the characteristics of the "RNAmed" programme. The aim of the project, funded by the German Bavarian Elite Network, is to move towards precision medicine and targeted molecular therapies.


Katalin Kariko also met the new generation of RNA researchers at the University of Würzburg

Fifteen PhD students have the unique opportunity to meet and work with leading researchers during their 4-year training in Würzburg, Munich or Regensburg. At their first meeting in Würzburg, members of this elite group had the opportunity to ask questions and listen to one of the best-known mRNA researchers, Katalin Kariko.

After the vibrant "summer school", Katalin Kariko posted on Twitter: "I was delighted to meet you, the new generation of RNA scientists", alongside a cheerful photo taken in Würzburg.



Ilona Újszászi

Photos by JMU, K.K.