IMAGE CREDIT: Anas AlBounni-KUST Review

Nearly every function in the human body is carried out by proteins. Cells are constantly manufacturing them using single-strand messenger RNA, which is made from a DNA template. Each strand of mRNA holds the information on how to make one type of protein. The cell reads the mRNA, follows the instructions and makes a protein.

mRNA is a recipe book for the body’s cells. The idea? Make precise edits to the recipe, inject people with it, sit back and watch the body make all the proteins you need.

 IMAGE: Anas Al Bounni-KUST Review

Viruses come in different shapes and sizes. Some are DNA viruses, which contain DNA that integrates with the host DNA in certain cells, using that cell’s replication mechanism to multiply. These viruses can activate cancer genes in the host — the human papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause cervical cancer, for example.

RNA viruses carry RNA and do not integrate that RNA into a host’s DNA. Instead, the RNA is directed to the host ribosomes in cells, with the ribosomes replicating the virus. These viruses do not interact with host DNA.

Once inside the body, the cell reads the vaccine mRNA and begins to make harmless spike proteins of its own. From there, the body recognizes them as a foreign threat and launches an immune response, teaching itself to respond to spike proteins. Should the actual coronavirus come knocking, your cells now know what to do.

The main drawback to mRNA vaccines? The mRNA breaks down very easily. It needs to be delivered inside a protective fatty barrier and kept cold.

mRNA vaccines are a groundbreaking way to elicit an immune response and their real impact is just beginning. Their applications don’t stop at COVID-19; we might be able to figure out the recipe for a cancer or HIV vaccine.


1961-mRNA discovered.

1963-Interferon induction by mRNA discovered.

1965-First liposomes produced.

1969-First proteins produced from isolated mRNA in lab.

1971-Liposomes first used for drug delivery.

1974-Liposomes first used for vaccine delivery.

1978-First liposome-wrapped mRNA delivery to cells.

1984-mRNA synthesized in lab.

1989-First time synthetic mRNA in liposomes is delivered to human cells.

1992-mRNA tested as a treatment in rats.

1993-First mRNA vaccines tested for influenza in mice.

1995-mRNA tested as cancer vaccine in mice.

2005-Discovery that modified RNA evades immune detection.

2013-First clinical trial of mRNA vaccine for infectious disease (rabies).

2020-First mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use.

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