mRNA vaccine pioneer Dr Katalin Karikó receives 2023 Dawson prize in Genetics

Posted on: 25 April 2023

Dr Katalin Karikó, whose work was central to the development of the mRNA based COVID-19 vaccines used all over the world, received the 2023 Dawson prize in Genetics in Trinity.

Every three years, the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Trinity awards the prize to a prominent scientist who has made major contributions to genetics. 

Dr Karikó is a Hungarian-American scientist whose work includes the key scientific research underpinning RNA-mediated immune activation, and the development of modifications to mRNA that make it safe for use in vaccines. Indeed, her work was central to the technology used by BioNTech and Moderna to develop the mRNA vaccines to target COVID-19.  Until recently, she was senior vice-president at BioNTech and holds an adjunct positon at the University of Pennsylvania. 

She kindly agreed to spend the day with staff and students in Trinity and delivered a public seminar on her life and career that evening.

Prof Matthew Campbell, Dr Katalin Kariko with her gold DNA Dawson prize, and Prof Jane Farrar in Trinity with beautiful trees and plants in the background. 

Prof Matthew Campbell, Dr Katalin Kariko with her gold DNA Dawson prize, and Prof Jane Farrar in Trinity.

“We are honoured that Dr Karikó has received the Dawson prize in Genetics and are particularly grateful that she was willing to spend so much time with our students and researchers in sharing her inspiring story,” said Professor Matthew Campbell, Professor in Genetics and Head of Department in Genetics at Trinity.

Dr Linda Doyle, Provost of Trinity, said: “Dr Karikó is a fitting recipient of the Dawson prize and we are delighted to welcome her to Trinity. I want to thank her for providing a public seminar which has helped inspire the next generation of geneticists. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic presented the world with a unique set of challenges and Dr Karikó’s research proved critical in helping to develop vaccines that turned the tide against the virus. This is yet another example of the huge societal benefits that result from strong investment in research.” 

The Dawson prize in Genetics has been awarded since 2006 to scientists of international prominence. It was established by a gift from George Dawson (1927-2004), the founder of the Department of Genetics at Trinity and, in accordance with his wishes, recipients give a public lecture and spend part of their visit in discussion with sophister and graduate students of the Smurfit Institute of Genetics. The prize is presented in the form of a gold miniature of the sculpture "The Double Helix" by Brian King.

Past recipients of the Dawson Prize are Trudy Mackay (2018); Vishva Dixit (2016); Elliot M. Meyerowitz (2013): Corey S. Goodman (2011); Mary-Claire King (2010); Sir John Sulston (2006).


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